If I were to list all of Broadway producer Stewart Lane’s credits and accomplishments, there’d be no need to write an article about him. The storied and extremely successful show-biz vet has produced a ton of Tony and other award-winning plays and musicals, written several successful books and owns a Broadway theater. But this August, Lane will be putting on a different hat—“an Erronius one,” to be exact, in the Bay Street Theatre’s production of Larry Gelbart, Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I spoke with Lane about the production, his career and his greatest accomplishments.
“This was an opportunity to ‘walk the boards,’” Lane says of his return to acting. Lane is a graduate of Boston University, where he studied acting, and is excited that he’ll be performing at the Bay Street Theatre. “I’ve always been a big supporter of the Bay Street Theatre. And this show gives me the opportunity to do what I love and be with my family.” Lane is looking forward to playing the wacky character of Erronius. “I see him as the Mr. Magoo character; he has more of a ‘sight problem’ than anything else,” Lane chuckles. But Forum isn’t the only project on Lane’s plate. Perhaps his most high-profile project right now is the upcoming Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet, with The Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom and multiple Tony-nominee Condola Rashad as the star-crossed lovers. Lane can’t wait for audiences to see the show, which will retain the classical text. “It’s more contemporary, though. We’re excited to have two young, talented people in this more modern setting.”
Earlier this year, Lane produced a brief run of Jekyll & Hide, which has gone on to a successful tour. But Jekyll & Hide is a blip on the radar compared to some of Lane’s other shows. One show that he holds especially dear to his heart is La Cage Aux Follies, which he worked on in 1987. “That was my second Broadway nomination,” he recalls, “and my first win. To have my dreams realized that I was right all these years! You believe in yourself, sure, but there’s always that nagging doubt otherwise.” But it was during a trip to the Hamptons when Lane knew he had truly arrived. “It was also my first time out there in the Hamptons. I grew up on Long Island, but I never really made it past Syosset,” he chuckles. “We had just won the Tony; I had been out there invited to a party, and it was a typical party for the Hamptons, but for me it was spectacular! And I’m sitting at this table with all these [Broadway] people I would read about…sitting with them!”
While Lane’s educational training is more “classical, because I’m the owner/manager of the Palace Theater I’ve got to keep the theater filled with hits.” As a result, many of the highly successful projects Lane’s worked on have been big, mainstream musicals, like Thoroughly Modern Millie, which made a star out of its lead, Sutton Foster. “Like Bernadette Peters, she’s one of ‘those’—she stays with the show the entire run. She had that kind of a loyalty to the show.” Lane has also worked with the legendary Peters when she starred as Mama Rose in Gypsy in 2007.
A recent project close to Lane’s heart is an adaptation of the classic RKO film Top Hat, which won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Musical on the West End in London. “This is one of those projects…going back 35 years, I made a list of shows I wanted to see on stage. This one was on the list. Like 42nd Street, it really stood on its own as a theater piece.” Lane first began developing the piece 30 years ago, when Irving Berlin, who composed the music for the film, was still alive. The show premiered on tour, proved successful, and moved to the West End. “We added ten other Irving Berlin songs to it,” Lane notes. “It’s more of a rethinking, a ‘theatricalization’ of a cinema piece.”
While shows that use pre-existing songs are sometimes looked down upon by theatergoers, Lane thinks there’s a place for them. “What’s happened is we’ve discovered an acceptable form. If you can do a Jersey Boys, it’ll be embraced critically and commercially; if you do a Mamma Mia! it will be embraced more commercially.” Lane thinks the familiar music is comforting to audiences.
Lane’s respect and admiration for the theater world led to some interesting writing projects, as well. Jews on Broadway is a book “celebrating the Jewish contribution to theater in the 20th Century,” he explains. “I take it decade by decade, exploring how [the Jewish community] molded the American theater. Among the figures featured in the book: Charles Strouse, who composed Bye Bye Birdie; Ellen Adler, daughter of legendary acting teacher Stella Adler; and more. “A large part of this history was the family dynasties [who ran the theater world],” Lane notes. Lane’s upcoming 2014 book, Black Broadway, explores and celebrates the African-American Broadway experience.
“I think that when you step back—we’re relatively young culturally, and the trajectory we’re setting today will decide where that ends up,” he says. Lane’s also got a refreshing outlook on theater. “I’ve always believed that good actors in major roles are exciting [regardless of race]. Unless the race of a character is in the story, why can’t Denzel Washington play Julius Caesar?” he asks. “The only criteria is that you have to be good,” he says, noting that his all-Black version of A Streetcar Named Desire, along with Best Man, “worked really well.” Lane also wrote Let’s Put on a Show, a guide for play producing, whether it be a high school theater or a major regional company. “I’ve had a huge positive reaction to it,” Lane says. “It’s a very practical book. I filled it with real-life answers and anecdotes.”
Lane’s had an iconic career as a Broadway producer and doesn’t plan on slowing down, but he’s gleeful about Forum. “The Bay Street Theatre…you have some of the best talent in the world. These actors can do anything.”
For more information on Stewart Lane, go to MrBroadway.com. For more information and tickets for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, go to baystreet.org.