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The Tag Team of Broadway Theatre: Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley

Originally Posted: August 22, 2007

R. B. Stuart

Broadway director, producer, actor and writer Stewart Lane is riding high with his latest 7 Tony nominated production, "Legally Blonde" starring Laura Belle Bundy. The staged version of the film of the same name starring Reece Witherspoon has been enchanting audiences since it opened in April on Broadway at the Palace Theatre for an open-ended run. This isn't anything unusual for Mr. Broadway, as he calls himself. "In my high school days I used to collect old radio shows and there was one called, Mr. First Night...and I thought instead of calling myself Mr. Coffee, I'd use Mr. Broadway," Lane jested of the name that became his web site persona.

Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley at the Tony Awards.

Lane, whose lucky charm is anything to do with theatre, won his fourth Tony in June for the 2006 hit, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only." With a producer credit in one form or another, over his 30-year career in theatre when it comes to staging a new production he considers producing the 'real work.' "Directing I like best of all because I can look at it like a picture. Acting is fun because you get to develop the entire character and create a brand new persona. But, the toughest part is writing - it's really lonely," he explains of the many Broadway hats he's worn in a production.

In 1981 when, "Women of the Year" with Lauren Bacall was nominated with 6 Tony awards, with that recognition Lane felt a hint of "making it." In three years he finally had when he won his first Tony in 1984 for the legendary, "La Cage Aux Follies." It became a box office smash on the stage and screen. "It was an amazing experience, not only because it solidified my position in the industry that I could produce an award winning show, but also deliver the profits. I was able to achieve both the financial and artistic success you're looking for," he said of his first major accomplishment. In 1991 he won his 2nd Tony with "Will Rogers Follies," the spectacular musical directed and choreographed by the long legged Tommy Tune. All were home to The Palace Theatre, an obvious lucky rabbit foot for Lane, which in 1980 he became part owners with the Nederlander's.

When it comes to his plays, Lane has no favorites as he considers all of them his babies. "The typical gestation period for a show is seven years." A majority of that time is spent obtaining the rights, finding the right director, set designer, writing the first and second draft and talent try-outs.

In 1961 at 10 years-old, Lane fell in love with theatre when he met a friend's father who was an actor. "It's one of those life altering experiences," he remembered when he went to their house one day and found the father home and not at work. His friend explained that his father was an actor and worked nights in a theatre. Young Lane was curious and wanted to know more about his work. The boy's father invited them both to see him performing in the Broadway show, "Little Me" starring Sid Ceasar. "His father was Sid Ceasar," Lane exclaimed. "I didn't know he was a TV star...I didn't stay up late to watch his show." They sat in the front row and went back stage after the production where Lane observed the camaraderie and friendship that the cast and crew generated. "It was incredible. Immediately I thought that's what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted to be."

Lane decided to compile all of his theatre experiences for a book, "Let's Put on A SHOW!," a how-to guide for those just starting out in the business. It was released in April and this Saturday, August 25th, he'll be having a book signing in East Hampton at the East End Book Shop at 6:30 PM, and there may just be some "Legally Blonde" giveaways.

This fall Lane will produce, "The Receptionist" directed by Joe Montello at the Manhattan Theatre Club and says, "You'll leave the theatre with a chill." In 2008, he will executive produce for PBS a TV version of the Broadway show, "Company" which won best revival this year.

Lane's beautiful wife Bonnie Comley, also an actor and producer for stage and screen, brings not only her own credits and accomplishments to the dynamic duo, but glamour and verve. Never mind loading up their mantle with yet another Tony award.

Her first Tony nomination as producer was for "Gypsy" with Bernadette Peters, "Fiddler on The Roof" was her second and third nomination was her first Tony win for producer on "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only." Comley recalls the night, "It was a great. Stewart was laughing that my family is a bunch of hand-holders all sitting together. Everyone was there, my parents and children." The twins, only 10 months old at the time, stayed home.

Comley first met Lane in 1995 when she was a reporter and host on the Travel Channel. "I interviewed him on a show I was producing. And over the next few years I called him for other articles I was writing." They were both already married at the time, but by 1997 they were both single again.

"I always thought he was a great guy. And I liked about him what everyone else did: he was an expert, very intelligent and enthusiastic. He is passionate about life in general." Seven years ago the couple came out to the Hamptons for a summer, and a year later bought a house in East Hampton to raise their children and live year round.

With over a dozen characters in her performance repertoire, Comley's favorite role was the one her husband wrote for her in 2000, "Randi Lester" in "If It Was Easy." Lane directed it at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre. "It was a fun role. To be able to watch the transformation of it, and play opposite Kevin Dobson and later John Jellison, was a joy especially because everybody was in sync."

With a background in writing and reporting for TV and radio, making the transition into producing theatre productions wasn't fraught with difficulties for Comley. "Being at someone's side [Stewart's], who's been in theatre for over 20 years helps. In turn I introduced him to film and television. So we end up working on everything as a team. The two of us have a lot of the same perspective. It's all entertainment, so it's very similar." In film you're always able to market and sell to other places, but in theatre Comley says, "Once you turn off the lights that's the end of it."

Comley was the executive producer for a documentary about the Broadway season and the race for the Best New Musical at the 2004 Tony Awards in "Show Business," along with "Brooklyn Rules," starring Alec Baldwin and Freddie Prinze Jr.

Currently, she's working on three documentaries all being filmed in the Hamptons. The subjects have a varied interest for her. The first being fertility. "Because it was eight years between our 9 year-old and one year-old twin babies. Over a five-year period I had been at three different fertility clinics and it wasn't successful. So we ended up using a gestational carrier." Comley wanted to share and explore fertility for other women who may be facing the same challenges.

Her second documentary is about equestrians. "As soon as we came out here our daughter, who was two at the time, saw all the horses and wanted to ride. I took her for a couple of lessons and she fell in love with pony camp. I discovered horse people are like dog and cat people. The horses are so pampered. They have this bond with the horses and it's so fascinating. It's been a tradition for centuries."

An unusual family outing brought about her third documentary, campers in the Hamptons. "We live two minutes from Cedar Point Park and someone recommended this great little snack bar there. It's on a cliff with a billion dollar view of the ocean where people with RV's and pup tents camp throughout the summer. Meanwhile down the road are Donna Karan and Sean Combs estates. Everyone swims in the same water, whether they're in a mansion or a tent. It's simply beautiful and people have a great summer no matter which one they're laying their head in."

To stay informed of what's hot on Broadway, you can visit their web sites at: www.MrBroadway.com and www.BonnieComley.com




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