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An Exclusive Interview with Legendary Broadway Producer Stewart Lane

Stewart Lane with his Tony Awards

Robin Roth

What a thrill it was to chat with this legendary icon of the Broadway stage! I very quickly discovered that Mr. Stewart Lane is more than brilliant, fun, warm, generous, an exhilarating person to speak with, an amazing human being, who totally and completely LOVES the theater and all it encompasses unconditionally, AND BEST OF ALL, how truly DOWN TO EARTH he is! If anyone is in the dark about this abundantly talented man, let me share just a little bit of his background with you.

Stewart Lane is the proud recipient of four Tony Awards. This Broadway producer’s credits include more than 20 Broadway shows and numerous others in London, Ireland and the U.S. He has been nominated for the Tony Award 8 times. He won his Tonys for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Will Rogers Follies,” “La Cage aux Folles,” and his latest for “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only,” with his lovely wife Bonnie Comley. In his own words, he states, “Winning a Tony never gets old. Trust me!” Lane has also received two Drama Desk Awards, two Telly Awards, the Drama Critics Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Western Heritage Wrangler Award. In addition to Jay Johnson, the renowned Lane is currently producing the Tony nominated “Legally Blonde-The Musical.”

Stewart Lane is the co-owner and operator of the Palace Theater in New York City. In addition, he has written two plays which are produced Off-Broadway, and regionally: “In the Wings” and “If it was Easy.” He has also served for eleven years on the Board of Governors of the League of American Theatres and Producers. One can only ponder how this truly amazing talented man finds time for it all, let alone being a husband and father?

But wait, there’s more! Stewart Lane has just come out with his latest book, “Let’s Put on a Show.” I will not spoil it for you… I just want to let you know that the book aims to help those who want to be involved with producing shows. In other words, it is like a theatre production guide for novices.

Now that you know who Stewart Lane is, let’s get to the personal interview, shall we?

RR: How do you decide and pick a show to produce? Is it the hit potential, the storyline, or perhaps both?

SL: I primarily look for a character driven story, whether it is a musical or a play. I am not dealing with special effects or car chases, I am dealing with characters that will be engaging and challenging for an audience. Having said that, what does come into play is when you’re looking for a recognizable title for a show. For example, with “Legally Blonde,” you’re already dealing with an established entity which helps you sell the show. Same thing goes when dealing with revivals. Primary, it’s the content of the play!

RR: When and how did you get started in the theatre?

SL: I fell in love with the theatre at an early age. I grew up in an area called Kings Point about 35 minutes outside of Manhattan. From third through fifth grades, I was best friends with this guy Ricky. We always hung out after school and I’d see his father hanging out at four in the afternoon at home walking around in his smoking jacket. I’d say, “Ricky, doesn’t your dad like, ya know, work for a living?” He said, “No, my dad is an actor. He works at night!” I was intrigued with the concept that his dad only worked at night while everyone else knocked their head against the wall during the day. I was invited to Ricky’s dad’s Broadway show, my first Broadway show. It was so exciting to me to see a real Broadway theater, the show, the actors, the audience, the Playbill and going back stage afterwards. Everything about it was so very thrilling. We go into the front row of “Little Me” starring Ricky’s father, Sid Caesar! The whole experience made me realize that this is great! From then on, from 11 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do! (The whole story is in his book!)

RR: How did the idea of turning the movie “Legally Blonde” into a Broadway show come about?

SL: It was such a fun movie and the storyline was so strong -- and Reese did such a great job in that -- I thought that this show could be adapted. I had some concerns that some parts might be too cinematic. The key thing when you convert any movie to the theater is you have to re-conceive it and think of it in theatrical ideas with three dimensional people on stage and a live audience. You have to take away fast editing and special sound effects. You deal with what you have in your environment.

RR: How involved are you with the casting of your shows? What makes you drawn to an actor besides a great audition?

SL: It depends on the project. I am not there for the first round of auditions. Most of the time I get involved with the callbacks. I let the director filter through the people.

RR: What would you like your fans to know about you?

SL: I really believe in the theater. Not only is it an exciting cultural activity, but it really defines us as a nation and as a people. I’ve always been proud to be a part of the theatre. We are a young nation; we are just starting to get ourselves and our theater together.

RR: What was your greatest triumph?

SL: Hopefully, it has not happened yet and my greatest triumph is yet to come.

RR: Please tell me a little bit about your book.

SL: It’s a comedic book on how to produce for the theatre. It is a guideline to help people who want to get involved with the theatre; whether to start with a community, university or how to even start a professional regional theatre, this is the kind of book you need. I go over the main things, like how to pick a season, how to pick plays, raise money, how to get the community involved. There is nothing out there like it and I want to see the theatre succeed. The more theatre we have out there, the better!

RR: What do you have in the fire now?

SL: I am just about to produce a show at the Manhattan Theater Club called “The Receptionist” and that will be opening off-Broadway April 30. It is an exciting, timeless story and a dynamic play directed by Joe Montana.

RR: Why the theater over film, and would you consider film?

SL: I’ve always enjoyed the personal collaboration you have with theatre. It’s very intense, when the clock is running, you are in rehearsals, and the show opens in a certain time. It gets really compressed. You are living 48 hours in a 24-hour period. After 35 years in the business, I have now just produced two movies which open in the spring. One is a documentary called “Show Business, The Road to Broadway.” It chronicles the 2004 Broadway season. Never has anything been done like this in cinema.

RR: When are “Legally Blonde” and "Jay Johnson" going to tour?

SL: “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” is presently touring and “Legally Blonde” will tour the fall of ‘08 and we open in London in the spring of ‘08.

RR: How are opening nights for you?

SL: Opening nights are great fun for me! Things have changed over the years. Back in the hay day, the reviews and critics came on opening night. Today, by the time opening night comes, the critics have already seen the show. So, come opening night, there are no critics there, you have all your friends and family, the audience and everyone has a great time and all the years of work and sweat come together in this great big celebration.

RR: What show are you the most proud of in your career?

SL: So far? There are two. One is “La Cage aux Folles.” I was 33 years old and won my first Tony. It was an exciting time and it was like a religious experience getting to work with these wonderful people. To create something that gets recognized by your peers for its quality is what motivates you to do it again.

RR: What was your proudest moment?

SL: Besides having children? Writing this book was very exciting for me. I have written two plays, but I have never written a book before. The process of writing, (14 months), the book signings, etc., was all exciting for me!

RR: What do you think of the London theatre compared to our theatre?

SL: What's not to love about London theatre? Its Shepherd’s Pie and going to dinner at the Ivy after a show! The London theatre is always great fun. I do believe in my heart that the English will always do Shakespeare better than we do, but Americans will always do American plays better. There is a cultural ingrained knowledge that you have when you come from a certain country. That is why certain things don’t travel well. Like comedy doesn’t travel well from London to here.

RR: Tell me about your children.

SL: We have a nice wide range, three older girls 22, 16, 9 and two boys who will be a year old in August.

RR: Will they be in the business?

SL: It depends if they need to do it. I started off as an actor and needed to do it.

Folks, this was one of my most thrilling interviews. Hearing this tremendous talented man speak was exhilarating! Each time he just uttered the word, THEATRE, you could feel his total love and excitement about it! I thank him for taking the time out from his busy schedule to let us get to know him. To you Mr. Lane, I give a STANDING OVATION and an enormous BRAVO. I thank you for all you have given to the theater and to the world. My review is in and it states, “You are an American icon and treasure!”

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