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July 17, 2014

Movie review: 'The Nance' is Nathan Lane at his finest

The supremely versatile Nathan Lane is alternately hilarious, as always, and dramatically heartbreaking, far darker than anything he has done before, in the Douglas Carter Beane comedy-drama "The Nance."

The 2-hour and 10-minute piece is now on movie screens as a limited special presentation (7 Wednesday and noon Sunday July 20 at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis), the acclaimed 2013 stage play filmed earlier this year at the Lyceum Theatre.

It is a powerful look at the Burlesque heyday in the 1930s in New York City, and a homosexual witch hunt in the theater district by city officials.

In this tour-de-force, two-time Tony winner Lane is performer Chauncey Miles, who plays a campy gay character adept at delivering hilarious double-entendres. Usually The Nance is a straight guy, but Chauncey is gay at a time when it was dangerous.

"The Nance" won three Tonys for scenic design, sound and costumes, and two nominations (Nathan Lane, his first non-musical Best Actor nod), and lighting last year.

It also stars Cady Huffman, the original Ulla in "The Producers," Jenni Barber (currently Glinda in "Wicked") and Andrea Burns (original Daniela in "In the Heights") as the burlesque performers, Lewis J. Stadlen, a Muny veteran and Lane's replacement in "The Producers," plays his comedic partner Efram. In his Broadway debut, Jonny Orsini plays Chauncey's live-in lover Ned.

Directed by Joe O'Brien, the play switches between the highjinks of the burlesque act at the Irving Place Theatre and the real-world conflicts in 1937, in Chauncey's apartment, an Automat, and a courthouse,

Playwright Beane wrote "The Little Dog Laughed," a satire on showbiz, and was Tony-nominated for the book of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Cinderella" last year. He is known for bracing wit and blunt reality checks.

Lane is heartbreaking as a self-destructive entertainer unwilling to bend at a crossroads. He has played edgy before ("Love! Valour! Compassion!), but goes deep in emotions here. For fans, it is a must-see. For those who only know Lane for his recurring Emmy-nominated role as Pepper Salzman in "Modern Family," it will be an eye-opener.

A theater legend already, Lane's work here will be remembered as one of his finest.

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