Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance recreates the raucous world of burlesque's heyday and tells the story of Chauncey Miles (Nathan Lane) and his fellow performers. In the 1930s, burlesque impresarios welcomed the hilarious comics and musical parodies of vaudeville to their decidedly lowbrow niche. A headliner called "the nance" was a stereotypically camp homosexual and master of comic double entendre - usually played by a straight man.
The Nance is a tale of Miles’ struggle to balance his belief that he can find happiness being a part of ‘mainstream/conservative’ New York with his onstage flamboyant persona and his offstage love affair with Ned (Jonny Orsini). Miles’ strong conviction that both his onstage and offstage personas are a normal part of the social fabric during Mayor LaGuardia’s cleanup of New York and his self-loathing for being unable to be a part of mainstream society leads to him to sabotage both his personal and professional life. Lane’s comic delivery is dead-on perfect as he puts a veneer of deliciously wicked wit over Miles’ self-loathing. The audience can see Miles visible struggle with his two personas as he attempts to reign himself in onstage when City License Commissioner Paul Moss is in the audience one night at the burlesque house. Ultimately, Miles can’t reign in his demons and he ‘turns up’ the nance act for Moss, which results in the theater being closed, and follows this by sabotaging his relationship with Ned. The play ends where it started – with Miles alone and looking for anonymous sex. In spite of the play’s bittersweet ending, Lane’s character makes it clear that he has the strength to survive another day.
The Nance opened April 15th and runs through June 16th at the Lyceum Theater (149 West 45th Street). There are seven shows a week (in addition to Wed– Sat nightly shows, there are 2:00PM shows on Wednesday and Saturday and a 3:00PM show on Sunday) and tickets range from $37 - $127.