In The Nance, Douglas Carter Beane undertakes an archeological investigation into the homosexual subculture of late-1930s New York, which in itself seems an audaciously unfashionable enterprise in this age of gay marriage and increasing social acceptance. Perhaps the playwright's intention was to remind today's complacent audiences of the injustices of an intolerant society. If the ambitious play ultimately doesn't dig deep enough to find the ideal balance between its delirious low comedy and pathos, at the very least it provides a tremendous vehicle for Nathan Lane.
THE NANCE Broadway Reviews
Reviews of The Nance on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for The Nance including the New York Times and More...
Lincoln Center Theater's stunning production of Douglas Carter Beane's "The Nance" is a textbook example of how to put on a classy show. It helps to have a bona fide (and certifiably bankable) star like Nathan Lane casting his glow in the title role of a Depression-era comic who plays "pansy parts" in burlesque shows. Another smart move was booking this period piece into a beautiful old Broadway house. The final coup was entrusting the helming to Jack O'Brien, whose impeccable taste in casting and keen eye for design guarantee a seamless show.
A spotlight works like a face-lift on Chauncey Miles, the title character of "The Nance," the strained if heartfelt new play by Douglas Carter Beane, set in the twilight of burlesque. As portrayed with shiny expertise and dark conviction by Nathan Lane in a production that opened on Monday night at the Lyceum Theater, Chauncey looks every year of whatever age he may admit to, and then some, whenever he's not onstage...This Janus-faced persona makes Mr. Lane a natural for the divided soul that is Chauncey, and he doesn't disappoint. Moving between his natural and artificial selves in increasingly adverse circumstances, his Chauncey flips the on and off switch so often that it finally short circuits, to devastating effect...But even Mr. Lane can't reconcile all the disparities Mr. Beane's script asks him to weave together.
Directed with subtlety and tenderness by Jack O'Brien, this is a bittersweet tale of repression and rebellion wrapped up in a valentine to a lost theatrical art form...Lane as the tortured soul at the play's heart is magnificent -- showing sides that are charming, witty, savage, self-destructive and yearning...One of the best scenes is toward the end when a self-loathing Miles returns to the stage in full-on drag. He has dropped The Nance act and is playing an old whore named Hortense. Lane is still funny but seems thoroughly and unbearably broken. It is heartbreaking.
No living stage actor can make an audience laugh more adroitly than Nathan Lane. His wry line shadings, priceless expressions and expertly timed pauses have produced some of Broadway's funniest moments in recent decades. So it's happy news that Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance ( * * * out of four), which opened Monday at the Lyceum Theatre, offers Lane the juiciest role that he has had since 2001's The Producers. Here he's cast as Chauncey Miles, a burlesque performer who deals in naughty gags and racy double entendre and whose wit proves just as sharp, if more dry, offstage.
The season isn't over yet, but The Nance may turn out to be its dramatic high point...Beane is in top form, tossing off glittering epigrams, but also crafting rich, flowing dialogue and giving even minor roles strokes of shading. Jack O'Brien stages the comedy skits and regular scenes with equal gusto. Lane shows his enormous range, expertly landing punch lines before punching us in the gut. Perhaps it's heteronormative of me to say, but The Nance can attract man or woman, gay or straight-even the undecided.
But after a steady diet of Broadway plays that are all about dysfunctional and sitcom-style families, "The Nance" is a welcome departure.
For Beane, the play is a revelation that effects a rehabilitation. After writing the books of three fairly trite musicals, he has found a way to harness his love of camp and make it do something other than amuse with diminishing returns. When The Nance is sharp, it's very sharp indeed. But it isn't perfect; Beane will go almost anywhere for a joke, even years into the future, and the storytelling gets woozy and frankly a bit lost whenever it leaves the central plot behind...But Lane, in the apotheosis of his sad clown routine, is sensational throughout. Rarely have his innate qualities of pathos and quacking cheer been put to better use; it's hard to decide whether Beane has given him a part he was born to play or he has given Beane a role he was born to write.
There are moments when "The Nance" feels too contemporary, though the play resists the snide humor afflicting Beane's adaptation of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella," which opened earlier this season. But it's also a sympathetic love story about one damaged man's inability to feel deserving of more than anonymous sex...Lane, in his best performance since "The Producers," brings considerable heart to Chauncey's ambiguities...Jack O'Brien has directed with his usual sensitivity, never allowing the play to devolve into a camp fest.
One of the most exciting things that a well-produced play can do is serve as a time machine, giving modern-day audiences a privileged glimpse of a corner of the lost world of the past. That's what Douglas Carter Beane does with "The Nance," a dead-serious comedy set in New York circa 1937.
With his hunger to entertain and his precision timing, Lane reminds us why he's a vaudevillian master in those scenes. He could ham it up even more, though, as he did so flamboyantly in the film "The Birdcage."
Douglas Carter Beane's "The Nance" is a bold, brave play, in which this eminent theatrical boulevardier reaches for something deeper and darker. Chronicling Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia's crusade to wipe out burlesque, accomplished in part by the persecution of gay people, in 1937 New York City, the show offers taut direction from Jack O'Brien and a tour de force turn from the brilliant Nathan Lane. So it's with great regret that I have to say that Beane's yin-and-yang mix of low comedy and high tragedy, the personal and the political, never meshes.
Nathan Lane is at his tragicomic best in The Nance...Beane - along with director Jack O'Brien, who knows a thing or two about showbiz razzle-dazzle (see: Hairspray) - has come up with a few genuinely fresh burlesque bits (no easy feat!), accompanied by Glen Kelly's too-darn-catchy tunes. And they've assembled a crack comic team to play the Irving Place performers...the priceless Lewis J. Stadlen portrays Efram, Chauncey's usual scene partner. Stadlen and Lane have built up quite the easy-breezy comic rapport over the years in shows such as Laughter on the 23rd Floor, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,Mizlansky/Zilinsky or 'Schmucks', and The Man Who Came to Dinner. If they got an act together, they could take it on the road. B
Lane's three-dimensional portrait of Chauncey Miles -- named after George Chauncey, whose 1994 Gay New York Beane consulted for background info -- is never a let-down. Possibly Broadway's one legitimate box-office name, Lane has played versions of Chauncey Miles before...As he's previously demonstrated, he has the uncanny ability to make audiences laugh while tugging at their heartstrings -- the gift indicating more than a spark of genius...Lane's stance, his expresssion at the final curtain -- the cause of the despair won't be revealed here -- may not be earned by Beane's play, but at that moment the actor beautifully compensates for anything and everything that up until then might have been missing.
Partly a history lesson, partly a laugh riot and partly a gay weeper, "The Nance" is an ambitious new play by Douglas Carter Beane that does not coalesce into a completely persuasive drama. Thanks partly to a vivid performance by Nathan Lane in the title role, director Jack O'Brien's evocative production usually makes the most of Beane's troubling look at homosexual existence in Manhattan during the 1930s.
"The Nance," which opened Monday night at the Lyceum Theatre, is a great showcase for the performing skills of Nathan Lane. Beyond that, things get a little murky.
So even when material lets him down, which it finally does in "The Nance," Douglas Carter Beane's splendidly ambitious but psychologically superficial tragicomedy, it's thrilling to watch Lane bond with a character who demands the full attention of so many gifted layers of him.
Even if the play eventually loses momentum, it is the most ambitious and substantial effort made to date by Beane, who is known primarily for writing the books of silly musicals like "Xanadu" and "Lysistrata Jones." It also allows Lane to combine his comedic persona with a tragic undertone...Jack O'Brien's solid production, which effectively uses a turntable to shift its massive set pieces, also features engaging performances from Cady Huffman (Lane's Tony-winning co-star in "The Producers") and Lewis J. Stadlen (who took over for Lane in "The Producers"). 2.5 stars