Nathan Lane is one of very few actors still around who is rightfully considered a genuine stage star (as opposed to a movie star moonlighting on Broadway in between other gigs).
His brilliant performance in “The Producers” in 2001 effectively re-energized the Great White Way for the new millennium and revived the then-moribund art form of musical comedy.
When he last appeared on Broadway, it was in “The Addams Family.” The less said about that disastrous musical the better.
Now he returns in Douglas Carter Beane’s brave but heavy-handed comedic drama “The Nance,” in which he plays Chauncey Miles, a gay burlesque performer in 1930s New York who excels in playing a flamboyant, ridiculously effeminate caricature of a gay man commonly called a nance or pansy.
While a good deal of the play consists of silly, old-fashioned sketches where Lane engages in some very funny wordplay, it primarily focuses on the gritty backstage environment, where burlesque is on the verge of being banned by Mayor LaGuardia, and a threatening Depression-era culture where openly gay activity is being targeted by the police.
Even if the play eventually loses momentum, it is the most ambitious and substantial effort made to date by Beane, who is known primarily for writing the books of silly musicals like “Xanadu” and “Lysistrata Jones.”
It also allows Lane to combine his comedic persona with a tragic undertone, not unlike his fine performance in the 2009 revival of “Waiting for Godot.”
Jack O’Brien’s solid production, which effectively uses a turntable to shift its massive set pieces, also features engaging performances from Cady Huffman (Lane’s Tony-winning co-star in “The Producers”) and Lewis J. Stadlen (who took over for Lane in “The Producers”).
‘The Nance’ plays an open run at the Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, telecharge.com.