There seem to be three breeding grounds for movies these days: ones basedon books, ones on television shows and sequels. On occasion, one will bebased on a stage production: Amadeus, Chicago and the recentProof come to mind. But how about this: a film based on a stagemusical based on a movie? Confusing, yes, but it has happened with TheProducers.
Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is a has-been Broadway producer whose recentshows usually close the night they open, forcing him to resort to hustlinglittle old ladies for cash. Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) is a neuroticaccountant who, upon visiting Max, casually mentions a scheme tailor-madefor producers who can only make flops: raise far more money than you need,then make sure the show is despised. The show closes immediately and youkeep the extra cash you raised. Max loves the idea, Leo regrets thinking outloud. Leo refuses to go any further with the idea, until Max talks him intojoining him.
They produce a musical called Springtime for Hitler, written byescaped Nazi Franz Liebken (Will Ferrell) directed by the flamboyant RogerDe Bris (Gary Beach) and starring as their female lead, a rather ditzySwedish bombshell named Ulla (Uma Thurman). With such non-talent in place,what could go wrong with the boys’ plan? Well…
I never got a chance to catch the Broadway version of TheProducers, but I have seen the 1968 original film quite a few times,laughing non-stop from start to finish every time. The teaming of GeneWilder, Zero Mostel and Mel Brooks’ delightfully over-the-top screenplay anddirecting is a comedic recipe that never grows stale. When I heard that thefilm was being turned into a musical, I began having my suspicions that areal-life Bialystock and Bloom were at work. Even with the play’s critical,financial and award success, I still had my doubts about this newversion.
Susan Stroman, director of the original 2001 stage production making herfilm directing debut here, has a little trouble shaking off her stageorigins. A lot of the film moves and feels like live theater, notnecessarily a good thing for a movie. Every so often, an actor will delivera line accompanied by the awkward pause one would find after an actordelivers the punch line to a joke. Fortunately, she knows the sourcematerial well enough to make the film work overall, remaining faithful toBrooks’ still funny and decidedly un-pc (Amen, Mel!) material whiledelivering musical numbers are both hilarious and have a great kick tothem.
Despite the occasional pregnant pause, she also yields fine performancesfrom her cast. It took me about 10-15 minutes to warm up to Broderick’sportrayal of the nebbish accountant, but I had no such problem with Lane’sturn as Bialystock, which is not only a career best for Lane but is also oneof the most enjoyable performances of the year. He delivers his one-linersand double entendres with perfect precision (you can almost picture the lateZero Mostel approvingly grinning from ear to ear), and his chemistry withBroderick is terrific.
The duo are backed by terrific support from Gary Beach and Roger Bart,who play De Bris and his even more flamboyant assistant, Carmen Ghia,respectively. Will Ferrell is over-the-top but still very funny as Liebkind, while Thurman, looking stunning-as always-makes for an okay Ulla. Not tofault the talented actress, but Ulla is the one character from the originalthat really shouldn’t have been expanded upon.
To paraphrase the lyrics of Springtime For Hitler, don’t you be afascist smarty, come and join The Producers party. It might be a bitstiff and a tad overlong, but chances are that you’ll be laughing too muchto either notice or care.