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Tony Award–winning actor Nathan Lane starred in Broadway's The Producers and in the film The Birdcage.
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Born Joseph Lane on February 3, 1956, in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nathan Lane took his stage name from the character Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. He began in stand-up comedy and quickly moved to Broadway, appearing in plays by Terrence McNally, including Love! Valour! Compassion!. Lane's film break was in The Birdcage,
in which he starred opposite Robin Williams. He has won Tony Awards for his roles in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Producers.
Born Joseph Lane on February 3, 1956, in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nathan Lane began acting in middle school, and by the time he graduated from St. Peter's Prep high school, he had decided on a career as an actor. Though he was offered a scholarship to study theater at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, the stipend provided was not sufficient to live on, so Lane took a series of odd jobs, including bail interviewer, telemarketer and singing messenger, while trying to land acting jobs in New York City. As there was another Joe Lane in the Actors' Equity organization, Lane took the first name of Nathan Detroit, a character he had played in a dinner theater production of Guys and Dolls.
After three years performing stand-up comedy in nightclubs with with Patrick Stack—the duo was known as Stack and Lane—Lane obtained an agent and made appearances on The Merv Griffin Show. In 1982, Lane got a part on the sitcom One of the Boys, featuring Mickey Rooney, Meg Ryan, and Dana Carvey, but the show was canceled after only 13 episodes. He would make his first big splash on Broadway the following year opposite George C. Scott in a revival of Noel Coward's play Present Laughter. The role marked the beginning of Lane's tenure as a fixture on the New York stage.
In 1989, Nathan Lane won a Drama Desk Award and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance in an off-Broadway production of The Lisbon Traviata, written by Terrence McNally. Lane's portrayal of Mendy, a homosexual man with an obsession with the opera singer Maria Callas, showcased the actor's hilarious and heartwarming understanding of even the most flamboyant characters. The collaboration with McNally marked the beginning of a fruitful actor-director relationship, as Lane would go on to appear in McNally's plays Bad Habits, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, the Tony-winning Love! Valour! Compassion!, and a film version of Frankie and Johnnie.
The talented Nathan Lane avoided being typecast as a gay actor who only plays gay characters, instead essaying a number of diverse roles. With his dinner theater days long behind him, he starred as Nathan Detroit opposite Faith Prince in the tremendously successful revival of Guys and Dolls on Broadway in 1992, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
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