Producers ~ Broadway Cast
The Producers was the vehicle that first proclaimed Mel Brooks's decidedly singular comic vision as a film director in 1968. At the time, the world may not have been entirely ready for the depth charges of hilarity he unleashed; but more than three decades later, it seemed almost foreordained that the film's retooling as a full-fledged musical--directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman--would become the smash hit of the 2000-2001 Broadway season (even before opening at the St. James Theatre in April). Brooks is, of course, no stranger to the Broadway musical genre or to songwriting, but skeptics might find themselves taken by surprise at just how outrageously well all the threads come together for the new show.
The film's absurd core vignette--the infamous "Springtime for Hitler"--if anything gains a few notches in hilarity when framed by a character-rich musical that comes off as both parody and valentine in its mimicry of Broadway's "golden age." Brooks (with the help of idiomatically expert arrangements by Glen Kelly) has cooked up a variety of numbers constituting a virtual primer of old-fashioned American musical comedy styles (there's even a toying with Cabaret-style decadence), but they're always coated with an extra layer of zaniness. In fact, the whole show becomes a Chinese box of parodies within parodies. But what really gets the whole mix working is a surefire cast headed by Nathan Lane playing Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick doing a delightfully nebbish turn with delusions of misplaced glory as his sidekick, Leo Bloom.
From his first big number (musically winking at Fiddler on the Roof), Lane hungrily lays claim to the role, undaunted by his formidable predecessor, Zero Mostel. Even on disc, you can visualize his over-the-top mugging as a dethroned "king of Broadway" who was "the first producer ever to do summer stock in the winter." Comedy, as they say, is all about timing, and that's exactly what Lane gets right. His interactions with Bloom, Franz Liebkind (Brad Oscar), and Roger de Bris (Gary Beach) are priceless, even when only in sound. As for the tunes, Brooks crafts a number of truly memorable ones--don't be surprised to find yourself horrified as you hum along with "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" and, of course, "Springtime for Hitler." --Thomas May