Alan Ruck's Day On

As viewers of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm know, we'll sadly never get to see the version of The Producers starring Larry David and Ben Stiller. And just forget right now about trying to score tickets to see Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (who originated the roles) during their current return run on Broadway. You're more likely to snag a seat for the Super Bowl in Bob McNair's personal skybox.

But Houston audiences will get at least a tangential Broderick connection during the musical's road run. His role as mousy accountant Leo Bloom is being assumed by Alan Ruck. You may not know the name, but you know his hangdog face from his role as the hapless Cameron Frye, the best friend of Broderick's title character in the Gen-X film classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

"This role is really interesting for me," says Ruck, who's making his musical stage debut after many years on TV's Spin City, "because I'm challenged on every front with the singing and dancing, and I'm getting away with it."

The show follows wily low-rent theatrical producer Max Bialystock (played on stage by Lewis J. Stadlen) and young accountant Bloom. The pair hatch an idea to raise money to produce a purposely offensive musical, Springtime for Hitler, that will have to close right away, leaving them with a chunk of change. If the story sounds like an unlikely plot typical of a Mel Brooks movie, well, it originally was.

Brooks wrote and directed the 1968 film of the same name starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, which became a cult hit. Amazingly, it gained new life as a full-blown musical in 2001 and received more Tonys than any other show in Broadway history. Bringing things full circle, Lane and Broderick will reprise their roles for a new film version of the musical, slated for 2005.

Ruck had to audition for his part with Brooks himself, who immediately gave the actor some grooming tips. "He was very sweet. I sang one song and did one scene. Then he takes out his comb and starts to mess up my hair!" Ruck recalls. "He said that I looked too 'together,' like a partner in a law firm and not like Bloom would. So he starts to mess up my hair, and I told him he was making me look like Shemp from the Three Stooges."

Ruck got the part, but ironically he never got to see Broderick as Bloom. The day after The Producers opened, it was obvious that it would be a huge hit and tickets were going to be scarce, so Ruck's wife asked him to make a call to his real-life friend. Broderick just happened to be a guest that morning on Regis Philbin's TV show. "I had the phone in my hand, and Matthew comes on TV. The first thing he does is look into the camera and says, 'Any of my friends who are thinking of calling me to ask for tickets, don't do it.'" Ruck laughs.

Gee, and after all the trouble that Ferris got Cameron into with his dad's car and skipping school. So much for being best friends.

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Lisa Simon