Where the original incarnation of The Producers was mostly down-to-earth and realistic, the musical is completely in the realm of manic comedy, with only a touch or two of drama in the third act. Despite its few faults, it is overall entertaining, and an obvious recommendation to any musical lovers.
10 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating
Mel Brooks originated the tale of a down-on-his-luck producer and meek account back in 1968 with his very first film, which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Over thirty years later in 2001, he brought the film to the stage as a musical, which contained twenty new songs written by him. With Hollywood's recent dry spell of creativity, and the idea that remakes equal big bucks, the dramatic film that became a multiple Tony award winning play is once more a movie.

The storyline is the same as 1968 incarnation: The former “King of Broadway” Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane, reprising his Tony-winning role) has hit a slump in his career, forced to rent his suits and seduce sweet old ladies for funds. Enter neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) sent to attend to his books, and it’s not long before Bloom comes up with a startling realization: a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit. This sets off a light bulb in Bialystock’s mind, who takes Bloom’s musings seriously, and a sneaky scheme soon follows.

“Springtime for Hitler”, a play penned by a former Nazi, is selected by the producers in hopes it will close on opening night. After all, who in their right mind would enjoy a show that is practically a love letter to Hitler? When the play is praised by critics and applauded by audiences, Bialystock and Bloom realize there is just no accounting for taste.

Being a musical, the main attraction is of course the music, which I found to be thoroughly entertaining. The lyrics are quite clever, with the orchestra bringing the songs to life, though at times they become a bit obnoxious. Most of the songs tend to be broad, with only one surprising tearjerker, “’Til Him”, Leo Bloom’s soulful performance about Max Bialystock, adding emotion and depth. Nearly every new character introduction transitions into a choreographed dance bit, with hardly any room for subtleties. As much as I enjoy the film, an intermission or two is essential. Even with a few songs cut from the play, I think one or two more could have been edited out, tightening the film to a manageable, less tedious pace.

Ninety-eight percent of the original Broadway cast returns to reprise their roles, with two new additions. Lane and Broderick have natural chemistry together, with Bloom’s exaggerated expressions and innocent naiveté offset well by Bialystock’s subtle performance and wordly know-how. Gary Beach, a Tony award winner for his role of the cross-dressing director Roger DeBris, and Roger Bart, DeBris’s “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia, are charming and witty in their openly gay (and openly clichéd) roles. I also think DeBris and Ghia are a perfect contrast to Bialystock and Bloom’s not-quite-as-obvious relationship, but I tend to read too deeply into such things.

Uma Thurman, the first of the new additions, plays the Swedish sexpot secretary, Ulla, and serves little purpose other than feminine sex appeal, shaking about and showing off her assets proudly. Personally, I found the character quite dull and boring, having as much personality as the flashy and pearl-clad dancers. Fuhrer-smitten neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell) adds his usual broad style of humor to the role, fitting in perfectly with the exaggerated musical. Having viewed only a little of his SNL career, I was surprised how well he performed. Though the brainwashed-Nazi is a natural fodder for laughs, Ferrell adds a subtle layer to the character, very nearly making him sympathetic.

Susan Stroman, who also choreographed and directed the stage production, relies on a static camera throughout, giving the film a very theatrical feel. It is essentially the play put on film with the added benefit of close-ups, multiple locations, and just a touch of editing and color enhancement to make it all work.
8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating
The widescreen transfer is bright and colorful, though sometimes a bit too gaudy; then again, given the overall theatrical tone, that’s to be expected. Dialogue is clear throughout, never muffled, and same goes for the songs. All in all, a perfect transfer, and I did not notice any defects.

As far as the extra features go, it’s a short but plentiful list. Firstly, we have eight deleted scenes, all of which are of the same visual and audio quality as the film itself. Within these cuts, one can find “King of Broadway”, the opening musical number to the play, which was wisely cut for the film to avoid repetition. Still, it is worth a glance, if only for Lane’s great performance. The rest of the cuts are simply extensions those who viewed the 1968 version of the film, or the stage production, will know such as the scene as Bialystock and Bloom visiting the bar to congratulate themselves before the play even finishes its first act. Personally, I think it was wise cut, as it allows “Springtime for Hitler” to run without interruptions.

Next we have fifteen minutes worth of outtakes, most of which are between Lane and Broderick. It’s amusing to see how much trouble they had getting through their scenes without giggling – at one point, something as little as Broderick coughing would set Lane off. Aside from that, you’ll find a variety of flubbed lines, crew mishaps, and random improvs.

Second to last of our features is “Analysis of a Scene: ‘I Wanna Be a Producer’”, which is about sixteen minutes long, discussing that particular piece. There’s interviews with Mel Brooks, Susan Stroman, Matthew Broderick, and others, naturally intercut with backstage footage. They discuss the choreography, set design, singing, and the origins of the number.

Finally, we have a commentary track with Susan Stroman. She speaks in a rather stilted, overly enthused manner – the result of note cards or a script – that can become tiresome after a while. Aside from the annoying moments where she narrates what is on-screen, she discusses everything you’d expect: how she met Mel Brooks and became involved with the film, compliments of the cast, her musical inspirations, and even retells Brooks’ tale of Bialystock being based upon a real person, along with her own experiences with less-than-honest theatre producers. As it is scripted, it lacks spontaneity, but it’s nonetheless informative.

Where the original incarnation of The Producers was mostly down-to-earth and realistic, the musical is completely in the realm of manic comedy, with only a touch or two of drama in the third act. Despite its few faults, it is overall entertaining, and an obvious recommendation to any musical lovers.

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