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This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“This play gives a peek into a world we’re not really privy to,” explains Matthew Broderick of Terrence McNally‘s backstage comedy, It’s Only a Play, a few days before its opening. “It’s like seeing what goes on in the locker room with Derek Jeter.” Without missing a beat, his co-star Nathan Lane quips, “I’m just glad we don’t have to walk around in towels!” As the two banter with McNally, lobbing such names as Mike Nichols, Dana Ivey and Jimmy Coco around like baseballs and joking about who’s going to show up on opening night in a tracksuit, their chatter sounds remarkably like the boldface-name-drenched dialogue of the play, which McNally, 74, has updated from his 1982 off-off Broadway original with references to theater and pop culture figures from Harvey Fierstein and Frank Langella to Lady Gaga and Shia LaBeouf.
In the play, which takes place at an opening-night party as a group of Broadway insiders await the verdict of The New York Times theater critic, Lane plays a successful TV actor who left the theater — with its scathing critics and crazy directors — long ago, but is drawn back into its orbit when he attends his old friend’s opening. That push-pull between the screen and the stage is something Lane, 58, and Broderick, 52, may understand better than anyone else, having successfully balanced work in film, TV and Broadway: Their 2001 megahit The Producers, which grossed $288 million in its six-year run (Broderick and Lane left the show after about a year), reset the bar for success on the Great White Way.
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Broderick points out a crucial difference between the multiplex and the theater: If your film gets a bad review, at least you’re finished working on it by the time the critics chime in. “But if God forbid that should happen at a play,” Broderick says, “you still have to come back the next night and do it all over again.” Luckily for this cast (which also includes F. Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally and Rupert Grint), the reviews of their real-life opening night were more of the “trifling, but fun” variety than “what a turkey!” Not that it would matter — thanks largely to its star-packed cast, the 18-week run (produced by McNally’s husband, Tom Kirdahy) was practically sold out before the first critic’s fingers hit the keyboard.
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