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    When Nathan Met Nicholas

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Whenever Nathan Lane revisits the classics on stage or screen, the occasion is always a reason to cheer. The New Jersey native has enlivened many a New York reinvention of vintage material, whether in lavish musicals (Guys and Dolls, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Producers), venerable comedy revivals (Present Laughter, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Odd Couple) or dramatic warhorses (On Borrowed Time, Butley, The Iceman Cometh). He’s now on Broadway again as rapacious city editor Walter Burns in an all-star revival of The Front Page, and was again hailed by The New York Times’s Ben Brantley, who noted Lane’s third act arrival “justifies whatever salary he’s getting and then some. His Walter is more monstrous and less charming that Cary Grant’s was in [the 1940 movie adaptation] His Girl Friday, but it just as irresistible. The best teamwork on stage comes from Mr. Lane and a telephone, into which Walter shouts to his news desk with blistering disregard for all courtesy, human feeling and what we now call political correctness.” Moviegoers have crossed his path less often, but his indelible performances in director Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage (the hit Americanization of La Cage aux Folles), MouseHunt and as the voice of Timon in the animated The Lion King proved impactful, just as his TV work on such series as Modern Family, The Good Wife and as F. Lee Bailey in the award-winning miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story delightfully bring him to national audiences. Now that he’s back on the Broadway boards, it’s fitting to revisit his wonderful turn as theatrical impresario Vincent Crummles in the remarkable ensemble cast of writer/director Douglas McGrath’s marvelous all-star adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby (2002), where he resides over his ragamuffin repertory company, which for a time employs the services of the runaways Nicholas (a pre-Sons of Anarchy Charlie Hunnam) and Smike (original Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell), with flamboyant gusto and genuine compassion. Because this exquisitely designed and deeply heartfelt tale of Victorian-era family hardship, crooked financial chicanery and bureaucratic corruption has an explosively rich cast of American and British thespians, Lane is merely one among many performance gems. Consider this company of acting notables: Academy Award® winner Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson as Mr. and Mrs. Squeers, who run the disreputable Dothebys Hall boys school; Romola Garai as Nicholas’ victimized sister Kate Nickleby; Anne Hathaway as Nicholas’s endangered love Madeleine Bray; Tom Courtenay as the droopy but wily clerk Newman Noggs; Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage to most of us) as the indefatigable Mrs. Crummles; Alan Cumming as showboating theatrical trouper Mr. Folair; Timothy Spall and Gerald Horan as the cheery Cheeryble brothers; Edward Fox as the aristocratic predator Sir Mulberry Hawk; and as one of the most calculatingly cold family relations one could ever not wish for, Academy Award® winner (also like Lane a two-time Tony® winner) Christopher Plummer as Nicholas’ black-hearted uncle Ralph Nickleby. Indeed, as Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “The actors assembled for Nicholas Nickleby are not only well cast, but well typecast. Each one by physical appearance alone replaces a page or more of Dickens' descriptions, allowing McGrath to move smoothly and swiftly through the story without laborious introductions: They are obviously who they are. The result is a movie that feels like a complete account of Dickens' novel…jolly and exciting and brimming with life, and wonderfully well-acted.” Since Lane always keeps company with formidable actors and solid material, you might consider joining him when the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray of Nicholas Nickleby comes home for the holidays December 13 (by a nicely Dickensian coincidence, Plummer’s 87th birthday), festooned with a detailed Director Audio Commentary and three revealing behind-the-scenes featurettes. Preorders open November 30.