A song-and-dance man at heart

Matthew Broderick eases into musicals


Suggest to Matthew Broderick that he can sing and dance. Imply that he might be good at it. Then ask why, after two Broadway musicals, one made-for-TV Music Man and now a crooning, tapping turn in The Producers, he still won't call himself a song-and-dance man.

"I don't resist it. I mean, nothing would make me happier," says Broderick, 43, as unpretentious and polite in life as he comes across on screen. "It's just that there are song-and-dance men who have been dancing their whole lives, who have actual taps on their shoes and things like that. So I'm just trying to be respectful to people who can actually do it. But I'm very flattered by that."

He pauses. "Yeah, what the hell. OK, I'm a song-and-dance man. I don't know if I am, but I would sure like to be." Another pause. "I've become too old to really learn."

For 20 minutes in a swank hotel room on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Broderick fails to brag. He tries, but he just can't do it. It's been a long couple of days of interviews for The Producers, the movie based on the Mel Brooks musical based on the Mel Brooks movie about a high-kicking Nazi musical. In a few hours he'll be on the stage in The Odd Couple, the revival he's carrying with his Producers co-star, Nathan Lane.

Broderick doesn't say he's tired, but when he's told he can duck any question that bores him, he looks intrigued. When he's told there are two forbidden topics that won't be broached unless he broaches them first, he looks more intrigued. But he doesn't duck any questions. He broaches both forbidden topics on his own. Throughout the interview he gamely turns inward, addressing his own, insistent modesty with low-key candor.

He credits three people for his footwork in The Producers: Wayne Cilento (who choreographed How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Broderick's first big foray into musicals), associate choreographer Warren Carlyle and director-choreographer Susan Stroman. She gave him steps he could manage, he says, and " took away the things that I didn't do well."

Stroman hands him credit right back. "The thing about Matthew is that his dancing has an accessibility to it," she says. "When the audience sees Matthew start dancing, I think they believe that they could possibly do that, too. Because he always dances like Leo Bloom - he never leaves that character."

Broderick would be "very happy" to make another musical (and might, if Brooks brings Young Frankenstein to Broadway). He loves the classics: Top Hat, Gay Divorcee, Singin' in the Rain. As a kid, he fell for Dreamgirls and Ain't Misbehavin' onstage. He never saw A Chorus Line, "but my wife loves that more than anything. And Annie - she was in Annie - I never saw that, either."

Forbidden Topic No. 1: The wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, star of Sex and the City. What does she think of Broderick's midlife shimmy into musicals? "She's very, very pleased about it. She's so encouraging and so sweet," he says of Parker, trained in ballet. "She must have come to The Producers 30 times, particularly when we started out. She's so great that way."

"You know, I have a family now, too, which I didn't used to have," he continues. "Once you have a child - this is a cliche, but the priorities do change a little bit. I just feel he's much more important than whatever play I'm doing."

Forbidden Top No. 2: The son, James Wilke Broderick, age 3. Asked whether fatherhood has enriched him as an actor, he describes a recent insight into Leo Bloom's neurotic attachment to a shred of baby-blue security blanket. When Broderick first played Leo, he had no first-hand experience with blankets. When he last played him, he had plenty: a true Method connection to flannel receiving blankets.

What gives him joy? James Wilke. Making people laugh. And pingpong. "I go to a gym, if you can believe it. And if you go in the afternoon when it's really empty, they pull out this pingpong table, and there are all these Romanians, and we play like crazy. I'll play for two hours," he says. "And that might be my most joy-filled time."

Amy Biancolli writes for the Houston Chronicle.

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