US Release Date: 12-16-2005
Directed by: Susan Stroman
- Nathan Lane, as
- Max Bialystock
- Matthew Broderick, as
- Leo Bloom
- Uma Thurman, as
- Will Ferrell, as
- Franz Liebkind
- Roger Bart, as
- Carmen Ghia
- Gary Beach as
- Roger De Bris
Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers: The Musical.
I was lucky enough to see The Producers on Broadway during Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's initial run. It was a hilarious romp and fully deserving of its record Tony Award wins. I'm also a huge fan of the original movie starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. I was therefore looking extremely forward to the movie adaptation of the musical version, featuring many of the stars from the Broadway version. And while it is still hilarious, the decision to so directly translate the stage version to the movie, particularly in retaining the stage acting onscreen, undercuts the film. It's still a good movie, but it's not a classic movie in the same way that the play was a classic play.
The plot is very close to that of the original movie. Max Bialystock is a down on his luck Broadway producer who hasn't had a hit in years and is reduced to seducing little old ladies to get money to produce his shows. When one day a timid accountant name Leo Bloom shows up at his office to do his books, the two of them, as mismatched as they are, concoct a scheme in which they will raise two million dollars to produce a sure fire flop that will only cost a hundred-thousand dollars, and then abscond with the excess funds. To that end they decide to produce a play entitled "Springtime for Hitler". They hire the worst actors, the worst director and then wait for the results, which, unfortunately for them, aren't quite what they expected.
Where the movie excels is in the songs. Susan Stroman, who directed the play and now directs the film, began her career as a choreographer and she knows how to stage a great song and dance. Unlike most of the recent crop of movie musicals that have tried to reinterpret the genre for a new audience, The Producers musical moments could have been lifted from the classic musicals of the 1940s and 50s. In fact, the whole movie, with its glamorous 1950s New York setting, is reminiscent of an old time musical. Whenever the characters break into song, the movie is pitch perfect.
Of the actors, Nathan Lane, who at times seems to be channeling Mostel, does the best job. Broderick's performance is almost identical to his performance on stage, but what works when projecting to the rear stalls, doesn't really work in close-up. His Bloom is a caricature and it takes some getting used to. It also doesn't help that he has the ghost of Gene Wilder's performance to contend with. Let's face it, no one plays hysterical better than Gene Wilder.
The movie is also blessed with a great group of supporting players. Gary Beach and Roger Bart, reprising their roles from Broadway, are terrific as the flamboyant director and his common-law assistant. And joining the cast are Will Ferrell as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind and Uma Thurman as the Swedish secretary, Ulla. Both do great turns and manage to carry their songs with aplomb.
It is Lane though, as he did on stage, who walks away with the movie. His greatest moment is during the song, "Betrayed", in which he manages to re-enact the entire story of the movie in song. It's great moment and with it he walks away with the film.
While The Producers was a mega-hit on Broadway, I'm wondering how successful the film will be. Unlike other musicals, it makes no concessions for modern audiences and is most likely to appeal to lovers of old time musicals (which I am happy to include myself). But how will it play for someone who doesn't know Gene Kelly from Fred Astaire?
Nathan Lane and Uma Thurman in The Producers: The Musical.
Where The Producers fail is in the directing. Where it succeeds is in the songs.
When transplanting a Broadway show to a movie you must do one important thing; use location shots every chance you can. The movie opens with audience members singing about Bialystock's latest play outside of a theater. They are obviously on a stage and my first thought was that this was not going to be good. Luckily some scenes were later filmed outside but all of them should have been. Another complaint I have is that the choreographed scenes should have been less edited. Broderick and Lane performed these numbers live so why edit these scenes at all. The camera should have simply been put in front of the actors and left alone. During Broderick's Unhappy song the director cuts away many times to show some chorus girl. I want to see just how good Broderick can dance not a show girl. Leave the camera alone and if I choose to look at an extra in the background I will. There is no need to cut to them.
I have only seen the movie musical once and already I am catching myself sing, "I want to be a Producer and date you, you, you-not you." The songs are catchy and to agree with Scott, Lane's number in jail is great, I bet it stopped the show on stage. Broderick and Thurman have fine voices and do their songs proud.
I can certainly see how this would have been a great stage musical but as a movie it just did not translate perfectly. Worth a watch for musical lovers but it will never gain the following of the original film.
Will Ferrell, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers.
I totally agree about the song and dance numbers. They are wonderful and unlike other recent movie musicals they are shot in a traditional manner that really showcases them. I disagree with Eric about the cuts. I didn't see it as a problem, compared to Chicago it is very sparsely edited. It is only in between numbers that the movie disappoints, for as good as Lane and Broderick are they cannot possibly compare to Mostel and Wilder.
This is why I disagree with Scott on which star gives the better turn. To me Lane is simply impersonating Mostel. He does a good job but outside of the songs he adds nothing to the character and delivers most of his punch lines exactly as Mostel did. Broderick at least makes some personality and line reading changes. His Bloom is a bit more infantile than was Wilder's. He also impressed me with his singing voice.
Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman are great also. Is there anything either one of them can't do? But the entire production is stolen by Gary Beach as the impossibly flamboyant director. When he steps in to play the lead in “Springtime for Hitler” he gives one of the funniest musical performances I have ever witnessed. He plays Hitler as if he were a blazing Liza Minnelli on opening night. Every line, every gesture and every facial expression pitch perfect.
I wonder why the beatnik character played by Dick Shawn in the original was cut from this production. That is the biggest change made from the 1968 version.
I understand why this movie wasn't a bigger hit. It is much too anachronistic for today's high speed/edited-to-death audiences who grew up on MTV videos. But that's one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2005)