Video: Nathan Lane on How He Almost Changed His Name to Norman Lane | Playbill

My Life in the Theatre Video: Nathan Lane on How He Almost Changed His Name to Norman Lane

The three-time Tony winner looks back on his 40-year career, by flipping through the Playbills from every Broadway show he's ever done.

In an alternate dimension, Norman Lane is the toast of Broadway.

“George C. Scott kept calling me Norman; not Nathan, Norman.” Nathan Lane, the three time Tony winner and celebrated wit, explains with a wry smile. “My real name is Joseph Lane, but when I joined Actors Equity, I became Nathan Lane, in honor of Nathan Detroit. He kept calling me Norman, and I was too intimidated to say anything to him. I thought of legally changing my name to Norman so I didn't have to bring it up!”

Luckily, Lane eventually found the strength to speak up to Scott, who both directed and led the 1982 Broadway revival of Present Laughter, which marked Lane’s Broadway debut. In the 40 years since his debut, Lane has become one of the most legendary stage performers of his generation, lending his comedic acuity to celebrated runs as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Max Bialystock in The Producers, and his namesake Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. This season, he is on Broadway playing Danny Burstein's father in Pictures From Home (running until April 30 at Broadway's Studio 54).

Above, watch Lane flip through a Playbill Binder, filled with Playbills from the 25 Broadway show he's been in. He recounts his stand-out memories from each production, with insight from his flops (like The Frogs) and his triumphs (like The Producers). We guarantee they'll be stories you have not heard before.

Nathan Lane Heather Gershonowitz

Following his Tony nominated performance in Guys and Dolls, Lane was hand picked by Neil Simon to appear in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a comedy inspired by Simon's early career experiences writing for televised variety shows in the 1950s.

Recalls Lane: "I said, 'Don't you want a big hulking guy to play this guy, Max Prince." Prince was based on comic Sid Caeser, who was 6'2. To his surprise, Simon responded with: "What you lack in height, you make up for in anger."

In 1996, Lane and his long-term collaborator Jerry Zaks came together once more for a revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was a full-circle moment for Lane.

"When I was in high school, the first revival of Forum starred the great Phil Silvers, and as a publicity stunt, they had a free Fourth of July matinee. A group of friends from high school and I got on the line that went all the way around the block, under the blazing sun. We got up to the doors of the theatre, I went in, and they closed the doors on my friends. They had reached capacity when they got to me." Lane smiles at the memory before continuing on. "I was put in standing room, and I watched this free performance of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." 

How was that production? "Phil Silvers? Nobody was better. Not Zero, not me. Nobody," Lane states emphatically. "He is the greatest Pseudolus I've ever seen. It's such a vivid memory for me, so to follow in those footsteps meant a lot to me."

Phil Silvers and Larry Blyden / Leigh Zimmerman and Nathan Lane

When reflecting on the many wonderful roles he has inhabited throughout his career, one limited run shines as Lane's favorite experience on the Broadway boards.

When a producer approached Lane in 2016 to see what show he had always wanted to bring to Broadway, Lane’s answer was easy: The Front Page. The role of Walter Burns, a morally misguided newspaper editor, is Lane’s favorite role of all time. “He's a bastard! He is a horrible human being. I love this play, and I wanted to do this play because I wanted to say one of the most famous last lines of a play ever written, which is, ‘the son of a bitch stole my watch.’” Lane leans forward, his eyes glinting with excitement to deliver the line once more. “I wanted to be the guy who got to say that, and every night when I would give John Slattery my watch and send them off to get married, I would take a deep breath, and bring the house down.”

Lane is now back on Broadway in Pictures From Home, opposite Danny Burstein and Zoë Wanamaker. "It's a gem of a play. Funny and so terribly moving," Lane details. "I see how moved people are by it and, everyone leaves wanting to call their parents to tell them they love them."

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