'Producers' cast changes

Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick bid farewell to hit Broadway musical

— Goodbye to Broadway's original Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

After nearly a year's run, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick left "The Producers" on Sunday, turning over the starring roles in Broadway's biggest hit in years to English actor Henry Goodman and television star Steven Weber.

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AP Photo

Nathan Lane, left, and Matthew Broderick take a curtain call after their last performance in "The Producers" at the St. James Theatre in New York. After nearly a year's run Lane and Broderick are turning over their staring roles to English actor Henry Goodman and television star Steven Weber.

The Mel Brooks musical, based on his 1968 film about two rapscallion Broadway producers who bilk investors out of their money by putting on a musical about Adolf Hitler, won't have to worry about sagging ticket sales. The show, which won a record 12 Tony Awards last June, is pretty much sold out for months to come.

The enthusiastic crowd at Sunday's matinee, which included Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, began standing and cheering even before the final curtain came down. After a teary Lane and Broderick took their bows, Brooks and director-choreographer Susan Stroman came on stage and presented their stars with bouquets of red roses.

"We wanted to thank you for making us laugh for an entire year," Stroman said, as she wished them well "on your new adventures."

"But when you are done with those film and TV folks," she added, "you need to come back."

Brooks yelled out, "Ditto." The two actors didn't speak.

Lane collected a Tony for his portrayal of Bialystock, the role originated in the movie by Zero Mostel, and Broderick was Bloom, the hapless accountant, played by Gene Wilder in the film.

Both roles are difficult, demanding parts, particularly Lane's, which, in the second act, required him to recapitulate the entire plot in one five-minute musical number that usually stopped the show.

During his run, Lane was plagued by a polyp on his left vocal cord, forcing him to scale back his schedule to six performances a week.

The original supporting cast members, including Tony winners Gary Beach and Cady Huffman, are staying in the show. Both Goodman, who starred in the London revival of "Chicago," and Weber, best known from the TV show "Wings," have nine-month contracts. They start Tuesday.

Lane and Broderick considered remaining in the musical, yet eventually decided against it. Still, they have left the door open to return to "The Producers" either in New York or another production, The New York Times reported Sunday.

It will still be here. Not since "Cats" in 1982 and "The Lion King" in 1997 has a show proven to be such an audience favorite � and such a difficult ticket to snare. The day after the musical opened in April 2001 to rave reviews, the producers of "The Producers" raised tickets prices to $100. It didn't deter would-be tickets buyers who queued up daily for cancellations and returns.

And in October, the producers formed a company called Broadway Inner Circle to sell several rows of premium orchestra seats for $480 each in the hopes of outwitting scalpers. The price hike pushed weekly grosses past $1.2 million and helped the $10 million musical pay back its production costs in less than year, rare for a big musical.

Lane and Broderick will not be idle for long.

Lane will try his luck on television with a new CBS series called "Life of the Party."

Broderick also will segue into television. He will star for ABC in a TV version of "The Music Man," playing another charlatan of sorts, Professor Harold Hill, reportedly opposite Kristin Chenoweth as Marian the librarian.

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