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Stewart Lane: Boston University
Alum Lights Up Broadway

Written by Francesca Simon

Opposite Photo of Stewart Lane
Photo Credit: Eliette Pascal


 

“I can remember when the phone didn’t’ ring,” says Stewart Lane, affectionately known as “Mr. Broadway”. It’s a title he’s earned as a Broadway producer, director, actor, writer and four-time Tony winner. For nearly thirty years his phone has been ringing off the hook as he has turned out one Broadway hit after another including Legally Blonde: The Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Fiddler on the Roof, and La Cage Aux Folles. The secret of his success could be that Lane does not allow any grass to grow under his theatrical feet. His motto? “Do it now!” So this week he helped his alma mater, Boston University College of Fine Arts (CFA), announce the InCite Arts Festival, designed to help CFA students get New York exposure now!

The festival, scheduled for March 9-15, will feature a series of musical and visual performances, as well as art exhibitions. New-York based art supporters and a Host Committee of prominent Boston University alumni, including Lane, director Nicholas Martins, and painters Pat Steir and Andrew Raferty will lead the week long celebration showcasing the BU students. The Town Hall, various theatres and galleries are venues which will feature the performances by a chamber orchestra concert featured a world premiere, three New York premiers of works by composers with close affiliation with the BU School of Music and a performance of Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn’s rarely performed Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Two unique showstoppers include a new play,Sow and Weep, by recent CFA alumna Nitzan Halperin about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Michael Nyman’s one-act opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Lane, author of the book Let’s Put on a Show! (a how-to guide for the novice and first-time theatre producers at all levels), is sharing his years of experience to help CFA create an innovative teaching and performance tool for students and recent grads. “We’re going back to the arts for arts sake,” Lane explained earlier this week at the Hudson Hotel where the press was invited to take a peek at what the festival plans for its New York debut in March.

“We want to introduce students to real world so they’re not so isolated and they can learn,” Lane said. “When I graduated they just kicked me out of the door and said “good luck”, Lane remembered with a smile. “Students need a support system. We’re not just throwing them into the pool to see if they can swim.” A man with a quick smile and high-octane energy Lane absolutely oozes enthusiasm. He can’t help it – he’s been Broadway bound since the early age of eleven, growing up on Long Island.

Lane, a life-long New Yorker, believes there’s no better place for the students to try the creative waters than the Big Apple. “New York is the hub of American theatre.” Only willing to admit he graduated sometime during the 70s, Lane began his career after graduation from BU by crossing the waters over to the Garden State to take on an apprenticeship with the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. He built sets, hung lights and walked the boards doing a bit of acting. He took the plunge into producing when he tried to get a job from his friend Jimmy Nederlander. He didn’t get hired because his buddy told him to first invest in one of the Nederlander shows. So Lane took what was left of his bar mitzvah money and invested in a script called Whose Life Is It Anyway? And of course the rest is -- to use a cliché – history. Lane’s Time Square office houses his coveted Tony Awards and a quick Google of Mr. Broadway will pop up a laundry list of his successful productions and award nominations.

The job of a producer is not an easy one but Lane excels in the challenge of picking a winning show, discovering the right star to light up the production, securing the theatre, and taking care of a million details including the monumental task of raising the money to turn a dream into a living, breathing creative theatrical blockbuster. “The gestation period of a play is three years and for a musical seven years from concept to opening,” he said. Anyone who wants to take on the task of producing, he warned, has got to learn to be a juggler and work on several projects at the same time.



Mr. Broadway is currently working on a revival of Hitchcock’s The 39 Stepswith the Roundabout Theatre. “We’re rethinking it. It’s very different from the original production, which I’m old enough to have seen,” he joked. Lane loves the idea of doing this project in conjunction with the non-profit theater group. It’s a very good business,” he explained. “It’s a lower risk,” he said, in this economy for both the non-profit and for the producer.

Excitement filled his face as he talked about another project which will go into previews February 21st at Studio 54 – a revival of Sunday in the Park with George The future looks bright for a unique project he’s calling Stormy Weather, which will tell the story of the legendary singer Lena Horne. “Leslie Uggims has already agreed to play the mature Lena,” Lane said excitedly. And of course he’ll work his magic to materialize the perfect performers for the perfect parts.

He is also producing the television presentation of the Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's Company for PBS, scheduled for broadcast on Great Performances sometime this winter.



Lane seems to always be in a Let's Put On a Show! mode since the work of keeping a successful show up and running requires constant care. On Monday, February 4th, here in New York, Broadway wanna-be’s will be lining up at 10 a.m. at New World Stages on West 50th street to audition for the role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Tony Nominee Laura Bell Bundy, the current “Elle” character will be moving on and someone’s got the step into her singing and dancing shoes. Auditions were held in Los Angeles last week, Chicago this week and then to Nashville and Orlando, before the search starts in New York. MTV has gotten into the act and plans to air the process as a reality show The Search for the Next Elle Woods later this Spring.

If you want to put on a show you can find Mr. Broadway signing his book at the Harvard Club of New York on February 6th and giving advice on selecting a show, assembling a creative team, casting, rehearsing, promoting and all angles of bringing a production from the page to the stage.

 

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