Actually, Lane's real announcement was about as improbable as his gag: Whoopi Goldberg would replace him in February in the lead role of Pseudolus, the slave who plots his freedom. Goldberg herself popped out in a blue and white Roman tunic and joked, "They didn't tell me that!"
The musical takes place in the ancient Roman Empire--or the empire as it would have been had it been based in the Catskills. The part has traditionally been played with a heavy belt of Borscht--Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Lane all won Tonys for their portrayals--and, at the risk of stating the obvious, it was written for a man.
No problem, Larry Gelbart, co-author of the book, told Daily Variety. "A few points in the script and lyrics have to be changed, obviously, because she's a woman. But that's easily fixed. It's a very simple play. And certainly no one has to tell Whoopi Goldberg how to be funny!" Ironically, Goldberg as a female Pseudolus will probably be more butch than Lane as a male.
Goldberg began as a standup comedian but Broadway launched her toward stardom with a one-woman show in 1984, produced by Mike Nichols. She'll re-create that show October 23 in a one-night stand for charity at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Lane is taking time off to star in Mousehunt, a DreamWorks comedy about two brothers and the mouse who lives in their house. The producers of A Funny Thing were eager to get a replacement with star power--box office for Broadway shows tends to drop radically when an established star takes a hiatus. Ticket sales were reportedly off by two-thirds when Lane went on vacation in September and an understudy filled in.