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Paulanne Simmons



Nathan Lane in "The Nance." Photo by Joan Marcus.

"The Nance"
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45 Street
Opened April 15, 2013
Tues. at 7pm, Wed. thru Sat. at 8pm, matinees Wed. & Sat. at 2pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $37-$132 www.telecharge.com or www.lct.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 21, 2013

By the late 1930s, when Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Nance” takes place, vaudeville was pretty much dead, and its naughty cousin, burlesque, was on life support. Yet vaudeville and burlesque were for many years the principal forms of entertainment for many Americans. It is a period of time that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. And so it is in this entertaining and thought-provoking drama.

“The Nance,” has Jack O’Brien’s brilliant direction, Nathan Lane’s moving portrayal of Chauncey Miles, the “Nance” (in the burlesque world a campy homosexual), and John Lee Beatty’s striking and effective rotating set, which puts the audience in the burlesque theater, backstage and in Chauncey’s apartment.

Want more? There’s also the impressive performance of Jonny Orsini as Ned, the attractive young man Chauncey finds late one night in the Automat (gay meeting grounds at that hour) and takes into his home. And there’s Lewis J. Stadlen as the gruff but kindly Efram, manager of the show and Chauncey’s partner onstage. To top it all, Cady Huffman, Jenni Barber and Andréa Burns are brassy and fresh (in every sense of the word) as three dancer/strippers.

Beane, who also penned “The Little Dog Laughed” and the revised (and more politicized) script for Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” has ably mixed social commentary with personal tragedy. If Lane is the perfect clown onstage, delivering punchlines filled with dirty double entendres and executing well-timed pratfalls, offstage he is conservative, fearful and somewhat self-loathing.

Eventually two devastating turns of events force Chauncey to take a closer look at his life. Ned falls in love with him and demands a monogamous relationship, and the city, led by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, initiates a crackdown on burlesque and most specifically gay-themed acts,.

Chauncey can no longer be an entertainer who is legally gay onstage and illegally gay offstage. Nor can he frequent his usual haunts for casual and anonymous sex. It’s the end of an era for Chauncey, both professionally and personally.

The truth is, even without the help of LaGuardia and his allies, burlesque would be officially dead in a few years, and Chauncey, Efram and all those wonderful, sassy girls would be out of a job, unless they could make the transition to film and television. It would take many more years until gay men (and women) would begin their journey (yet to be completed) to equal and open acceptance in society.

“The Nance” makes burlesque so lovably naughty we certainly regret its passing. At the same time, it creates a poignant picture of what life was like for gay men whose love was furtive and life was fearful.


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