According to a report in the New York Times, Goodman was informed post-performance via a backstage telephone call from his London agent, with neither the director nor producers involved in casting him present. The Producers was meant to be Goodman's big Broadway break. Although he's previously appeared there in a transatlantic cast exchange for the comedy Art, the new role marked his Broadway musical debut and by far his highest profile American appointment to date. When announced in February, the casting of such a New York unknown shocked many industry watchers.
Goodman has now attacked the New York theatre industry "where just giving a good performance isn't enough." Although he said he respected the risks associated with having "millions of dollars on the line", he resented the practice of "dealing with people as commodities" rather than people. "This is as much about the boardrooms as it is about the boards."
According to Goodman, Rocco Landesman and Richard Frankel - the producers of The Producers - had made a mistake and should have allowed critics to be the judge of his performance. Goodman started his run at New York’s St James Theater on 19 March and had played less than 30 performances. Critics were due to attend on 1 May 2002.
Speaking to The New York Times, Landesman admitted that Goodman had every reason to be "miffed" as he was given no warning and "had nothing but assurances that everything was okay". Goodman says even Mel Brooks, the original director of the 1968 film, had told him "I love you" as recently as Saturday. Despite this, Landesman says there are no regrets about the decision taken. "The bottom line is that it's going to be a better show on Tuesday (performances resume this evening with Lane's understudy Brad Oscar taking over) than it was on Sunday." It's understood that Goodman will be compensated for the rest of his eight-month contracted at approximately $15,000 a week.
Choreographer Susan Stroman issued a statement saying that she continued to have "the utmost respect" for Goodman who she regarded as "a wonderful actor and I would happily work with him again on another project. Henry has been very well received by audiences nightly," she continued, "but the producers have decided to pursue a different quality for the role." Elaborating in more critical fashion to the New York Times, Stroman said that Goodman's "classic British approach" may have turned people off. "There are iconic moments - American moments - in The Producers that just weren't in his bones."
An anonymous cast member, speaking to the New York Post, was even more damning, saying that Goodman "just isn't funny...he's a very good actor, but he's very serious. He's not a musical-comedy star." That accusation has riled British fans of the actor on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum, where many have deemed his treatment a disgrace.
Goodman is a seven-times Laurence Olivier Award nominee, winning twice to date - Best Actor in 1999 for The Merchant of Venice and Best Actor in a Musical in 1993 for Sondheim's Assassins. His many other stage credits have included West End musicals such as Guys and Dolls, Chicago and City of Angels and acclaimed plays like Feelgood, Hysteria, Angels in America and countless other productions at the RSC, the National Theatre and in the West End.
It's unclear how, if at all, Goodman's sacking will effect the West End transfer of The Producers, planned for spring 2003. At the time of his New York appointment, it was rumoured that he would be lined up to carry the musical back home after his Broadway contract. The show's UK production manager, Laurence Miller for Clear Channel Entertainment, was unavailable for comment.
- by Terri Paddock