By Harry Haun
16 Apr 2013

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It's his first performance on Broadway, but even more important "is to work with supportive, genuine people. I couldn't be luckier with the group that I have here."

The director rates a special round of applause from him. "Jack O'Brien works on another level—a higher level, I'm convinced," he contended. "He understands human beings and the nuance of their personality like nothing I've seen before."

Gruff and gravel-voiced Lewis J. Stadlen, who's always at the top of his game whenever he and Lane cross paths on the same stage, barks out the role of the company manager and Lane's sketch-partner in a half-dozen routines. "Through the evening, his main purpose is to survive," he noted. "He's management, and everybody else sorta works for me. There's an arc to the character in that Nathan's character drives me crazy but I can hug him and make peace at the end and realize what a substantive, courageous person he is—and that goes for Nathan, too."

There's a savvy showbiz brashness he has picked up in his theatrical travels, and you can find distant echoes of Sam Levene, with whom he started more than 40 years ago in the original Sunshine Boys. "Y'know, I've always been pretty much of an amalgam of every entertainer that I've ever loved. That's why I gravitated to being an actor, so the idea to be able to play a character and then have six alter-egos in sketch comedy is great. There's some Sam in this. He was my mentor. He'd be really pissed off if I called him a mentor—that was just his cantankerous personality."

O'Brien has encouraged a cozy camaraderie among the cast that is practically palpable. It especially shows in Cady Huffman's pinko-leading stripper, Sylvie. In some zesty dance numbers staged by Joey Pizzi, she and Jenni Barber and Andrea Burns chase the accumulating clouds away and return us to the land of the living.

Like Lane, Huffman took a Tony for his bimbo secretary in The Producers. Here, as good-time-gal Sylvie, she shows us what's beyond the pretty packaging, a dimensionally, nominatable performance. "I love that she is a woman who has sorta taken the plight of women, as in being objectified, and put it into her own terms. You know, 'If I'm going to be objectified, I'm going to do it on stage where you all can see me, and then I'm going to be strong and fight for what I believe in—equality, women's rights.' She's found such a power in her own sexuality." Brava, Cady!

Lane's understudy, Stephen DeRosa, had quite a scare the day before opening when Lane took sick, "but he came back full force today," DeRosa was relieved to add. "You can believe my heart was in my mouth. No Eve Harrington, I. No Sarah Siddons Award for me. Nathan Lane is our Merman."

The opening-night luster was provided by two-time Tony winners like Cherry Jones and Christine Baranski, costume designers like Paul Gallo and William Ivey Long, redheaded duos like Cynthia Nixon and Jesse Tyler Ferguson; playwrights A.R. (Pete) Gurney, Paul Rudnick and Jon Robin Baitz; some Cinderella folks, Greg Hildreth who came with Nice Work If You Can Get It's Emily Tyra, and Victoria Clark; Josh Charles from "The Good Wife"; Matthew Maher, late of The Flick; Jason Patric, who had Lane for his musical-theatre camp counselor 37 years ago—"he taught me the jazz hand"; Julie White, a Tony winner for Beane's The Little Dog Laughed; directors David Cromer of Our Town and Walter Bobbie of Chicago; Debra Monk, who just shot an independent film called "Reaching Home"; Mare Winningham, late of Picnic; Victor Garber; Ann's Holland Taylor ("Jack has been my friend and mentor for 30 years"); Linda Lavin with hubby Steve Bakunas; one-man-showoff Mike Birbiglia; and comedienne Caroline Rhea, who was there for "The Holy Trinity" (Nathan, Doug and Jack), cheerfully chirped, "I love Nathan. Glad he's getting a break."

View highlights from the production here!