Injured Dreyfuss quits 'The Producers' days before show opens

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On screen he has confronted sharks and aliens, while in real life he battled drink and drugs. But yesterday the Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss announced he was pulling out of his latest role just days before the first public performances of the West End production of The Producers.

On screen he has confronted sharks and aliens, while in real life he battled drink and drugs. But yesterday the Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss announced he was pulling out of his latest role just days before the first public performances of the West End production of The Producers.

The stage version of Mel Brooks' uproarious film, in which two unscrupulous producers create the spectacularly tasteless musical Springtime for Hitler, has been a massive hit on Broadway, winning an unprecedented 12 Tony awards.

Its transfer to the West End made it one of the most eagerly awaited productions of the year here. But the star of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind has stopped rehearsing after aggravating back and shoulder injuries.

Nathan Lane, who starred on Broadway, will replace Dreyfuss in the leading role of Max Bialystockuntil January.

A statement said the show's producers, who include Mel Brooks himself, "are grateful to Mr Dreyfuss for his artistry and all his work on their behalf and hope that he will be able to rejoin the company when his physical condition permits.

"Following his surgery for a herniated disc in January and the reoccurrence of a shoulder injury, it has become increasingly difficult for Mr Dreyfuss to fulfil the rigours of the role, and it is with regret that both parties have had to make this decision," the statement said.The availability of Lane means no performances will be cancelled and will be some compensation to audiences who have already snapped up more than £3m-worth of tickets. He won one of the show's Tony awards on Broadway, where it became the hottest ticket in town with prices going as high as £350 a seat.

He will appear only until 8 January, as he is then due to start filming the screen version of the musical - which itself started life as a film in 1968, for which Brooks won an Oscar for best original screenplay.

The comedy is about two producers who set up an investment scam to make a fortune by creating the biggest flop ever. The plan is thwarted when Springtime for Hitler proves an enormous success.

Signs that he was not entirely comfortable in the role came in an interview with Frank Skinner on ITV last week when he warned viewers that although the show officially opened on 9 November, they should not come straight away. "Come from Christmas on. Do not come before that, OK?

"Actors don't like people to come straight away. It's too stressful - wait till we have fun - then come. Come, come, come, keep coming, bring your friends. But if I see a face from this audience, [before Christmas] I swear I'll kill you - I'll skin you."

The co-star in the show is the British actor and comedian Lee Evans, making his musicals debut in the role of Bialystock's sidekick, Leo Bloom.

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