Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy 10th Birthday to The Producers- opened on Broadway April 19, 2001

The Mel Brook's musical juggernaut The Producers opened on Broadway 10 years ago today.  It would go on to break box office records and be nominated and win the most Tony Awards in the history of those awards at that time.  

The Producers is based on Brooks' 1968 film of the same name.  The film starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom and for the Broadway musical Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick played Max and Leo.

The film and musical basically follow the same plot: Max Bialystock is a down on his luck theatrical producer who once was "The King of Broadway."  His latest show "Funny Boy" (a musical version of Hamlet) has just flopped and he has to continually romance a series of little old ladies to get them to invest in his productions, something that is even too taxing for Max.   When Leo Bloom, an accountant who has been sent to audit Max's books, makes the comment that he actually raised $2,000 more than "Funny Boy" cost so he actually made money on the flop, Leo realizes that "a producer could actually make more money with a flop than a hit."  Upon hearing that, the wheels in Max's head start to turn and he determines the ultimate scheme to make it rich on Broadway.   They need to find the worst play ever written, hire the worst director, hire the worst actors, raise $2 million dollars, much more money then they actually need and when the show flops they will both be rich.  

Lane and Broderick
Of course things aren't so easy for our dynamic duo and the remainder of the plot shows how even when you think you have the worst thing ever created it just might be a hit.   The rest of the original Broadway cast included Gary Beach as Roger De Bris, the "worst director" they hire, Roger Bart as De Bris' "common law assistant" Carmen Ghia, Brad Oscar as Franz Liebkind, the author who has written the worst play they find - "Springtime For Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" and Cady Huffman as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who auditions for the musical.

I believe The Producers is the funniest musical there is.   It has a "take no prisoners" attitude, offends almost everyone possible, has a very witty score and some of the best comic set-ups and pay-offs.  With the original Broadway cast it was obvious when I saw it in previews that it would go on to not only sweep the 2001 Tony Awards but also have a healthy run on Broadway.

Beach, Broderick, Lane and Bart
The musical was such a hit that it broke box office records and had the highest single day ticket sales the day after it opened when it sold $3 million worth of tickets.  I remember seeing the line of people waiting to get tickets at the box office and the line stretched way down 44th street that day, something you hardly ever see for a Broadway show.

The Broadway production ran for over 2,500 performances, a run of exactly six years, ending on April 22, 2007.  And while the show was a enormous hit with the original duo of Lane and Broderick, it wasn't as successful when the two of them left the show.  This was something that it seemed Brooks struggled with, since it made it appear that the two stars were the reason the show was a hit, and not Brooks' material.  Still, the show is very funny and I've even seen the musical in a summer theatre community theatre production and it completely held up even without big stars like Lane and Broderick.   Lane and Broderick were persuaded to return to the show for a 3 month run that began in December 2003, and the ticket sales the day they went on sale hit $3.5 million, breaking their own previous record.  I saw them again when they returned to the show and their performances were just at fresh and funny as when I saw the show in previews in April 2001.

Susan Stroman was the director and choreographer of the musical.  Her husband Mike Ockrent, who she worked with on Crazy For You, Big and A Christmas Carol was originally hired to direct, with Stroman choreographing.  However Ockrent died in December of 1999 and after his death she was asked to take over the direction of the show as well.  The Producers was actually her first Broadway Directing credit for a book musical with an original score (as she directed Contact and the revival of The Music Man the year before she took on both duties with The Producers.)   I worked with both Stroman and Ockrent when I was the accountant for the first year that A Christmas Carol ran and thought the two of them were some of the most professional but personable people I ever met.

Beach, Bart, Lane and Broderick in the 2005 film
In December 2005 Lane, Broderick, Beach and Bart all appeared in the movie version of the musical which was also directed by Stroman.  Will Ferrell was Franz and Uma Thurman was Ulla.  Even though the film contained basically the same material as the show, with the same main cast and was even able to expand on many of the scenes in the show, the film flopped at the box office, only grossing $19 million dollars in the U.S.  Most of the negative reviews of the film said that the performers were still playing their parts for the stage, not scaling them down for film.   The "over the top" performances work for the theatre, but seemed too broad and exagerated for the movie.   Still, there are a lot of funny bits in the movie, and it is nice to see most of an Original Broadway Cast recreate their performances for film, especially lesser known stars like Gary Beach and Roger Bart.

I work right on Times Square, in the heart of the theatre district and even though my company takes up the majority of the floors in our building there are some theatrical agents that occupy one of the floors.   A little over 10 years ago the doors to the elevator opened on my floor and in front of me was Mel Brooks and another man and they were in the middle of a conversation.   I got on the elevator and the three of us rode down to the lobby together and I still remember Brooks continuing the conversation he was having and he said "You know what? I think he'll be perfect" and the other man agreed.  Now I have no idea if they were talking about Lane, Broderick, or who but I knew they were talking about The Producers and it was nice to see that Brooks was involved in whatever creative decisions they were discussing.

I used to walk down 44th street every day to start my commute home, which would take me right by the St. James Theatre where The Producers was playing.  I was always amazed at the long lines of people waiting for cancellations as well as for buying advance tickets.  Though, like I mentioned above, the line did seem to disappear once Lane and Broderick left the show.

The 12 Tony's that The Producers won:
-Best Musical
-Best Book of a Musical -Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
-Best Original Score - Mel Brooks
-Best Leading Actor in a Musical - Nathan Lane
-Best Featured Actor in a Musical - Gary Beach
-Best Featured Actress in a Musical - Cady Huffman 
-Best Scenic Design  - Robin Wagner
-Best Costume Design  -  William Ivey Long
-Best Lighting Design - Peter Kaczorowski
-Best Choreography - Susan Stroman
-Best Direction of a Musical - Susan Stroman 
-Best Orchestrations - Doug Besterman

Amazon link for the cd of  The Producers (2001 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the dvd of  
Recording "The Producers" - A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks

Amazon link for the cd of  
The Producers (2005 Movie Soundtrack)

Amazon link for the dvd of the original film of The Producers (Deluxe Edition)

Amazon link for the dvd of the filmed version of the Broadway musical of The Producers (Widescreen Edition)

Lane and Broderick perform "We Can Do It" on The Today Show -
The Original Broadway cast Tony Awards Performance:
"Keep it Gay" from the recording sessions of the original cast recording documented in "Recording the Producers" -
"The King of Broadway" - deleted song that was in the Broadway show but not in the movie:

"Springtime For Hitler" from both the 1968 movie and the 2005 movie of the musical -

Matthew Morrison singing 'Springtime for Hitler" from the Kennedy Center Honors where Brooks was one of the recipients - 

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