It’s 1937 and Chauncey Miles (Nathan Lane) headliner at The Irving Place Theatre where burlesque is gasping its final breath and the balcony is a playground for homosexual hanky panky is picking up more than a sandwich at the local Automat in Greenwich Village.
It is here that he meets a young, naïve and attractive guy from Buffalo Ned (a charismatic Jonny Orsini) who has heard that he might meet someone at this particular Automat at this particular time. Not divulging his true identity Chauncey charms as well as shares his sandwich with the hope that they can meet around the corner at the newsstand and continue their forbidden homosexual tryst. An act forbidden in the eyes of Mayor LaGuardia, who is cracking down – raiding and arresting.
And so THE NANCE a brave, powerful and disturbing new play by Douglas Carter Beane begins. Focusing on their growing relationship on stage and off with lots of Burlesque skits and numbers that sometimes beautifully comment, Chauncey the house “nance” camps up a storm on stage with a wink here and a leer there speaking in sexual double entendres that would make a grown man groan aided by his on stage partner Efram (a perfect Lewis J. Stadlen) who doesn’t appreciate the fact that Chauncey is gay and has brought his new discovery into the act and flaunting his odd lifestyle.
There are also three strippers that are hatched from the same egg as the three strippers in GYPSY – only not as successful. Cady Huffman (Sylvie) Jenni Barber (Joan) and Andrea Burns (Carmen – the hot tamale from Brooklyn) are lots of fun. But the skits are repetitive and begin to wear out their welcome. Some easy enough to accomplish cuts from the otherwise excellent direction by Jack O’Brien could have made this show tighter, focusing more on Ned and Chauncey.
Rather Chauncey and Ned – after all Chauncey should get top billing – he’s the star at The Irving Place Theatre and the Lyceum where THE NANCE is holding forth. Nathan Lane is giving a powerhouse and controlled bravura performance. He cannot accept the innocent and true love that Ned offers him. He is entrapped in his own mental self loathing anguish not being able to realize that we are all worthy of finding someone to love and not have a series of quick, casual and anonymous sexual encounters.
Newcomer Jonny Orsini is a major discovery for Chauncey as well as for us. He is star material and more than holds his own with Mr. Lane. He’s a natural with a kilowatt smile. They make a beautiful odd couple and Ned’s true passion for Chauncey is heart wrenching.
The spectacular revolving set by John Lee Beatty that goes from the automat to Chauncey’s apartment to onstage/backstage at the Irving Place Theatre and a Courtroom helps the transitions tremendously. The costumes by Ann Roth are appropriately tacky for the strippers and Burlesque scenes. Original music by Glen Kelly keeps everything buoyant and bubbly.
THE NANCE could be one of the most important fairy tales ever told. It’s historical and hysterical and hits you right in the gut and heart.
Please go. Another fine Lincoln Center Theater production – www.lct.org Photos: Joan Marcus
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