Go, Bialy baby, go! After years of wrangling for the rights and months of casting speculation, the stage version of Mel Brooks’ classic film comedy, The Producers, now gets its first big test. The new musical, by Brooks and co-librettist Thomas Meehan, starts its out-of-town tryout at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre Feb. 1. Rehearsals began Dec. 11.
After concluding its Chicago run Feb. 25, The Producers will arrive at Broadway's St. James Theatre March 22 and officially open there April 19. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick co-star in the tuner, which, according to the New York Post (Dec. 8, 2000) raked in $2 million in advance sales in the two weeks since tickets were made available to the general public. (American Express Card holders were given an early chance to purchase ducats Nov. 12-Dec. 2.) Production spokesperson Michael Hartman (of the Barlow-Hartman office) told Playbill On-Line the above financial stats were not confirmed, and "the production is not disclosing figures" regarding its box office take. He did say that the show's capitalization is $10.5 million.
Roger Bart, Gary Beach, Cady Huffman and Roger Orbach co-star alongside Lane and Broderick in The Producers, to be directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Designers are set designer Robin Wagner (a Tony winner for City of Angels and On the Twentieth Century) on sets, William Ivey Long (a Tony winner for Nine) on costumes, Peter Kaczorowski on lighting and Steve Kennedy on sound. Glen Kelly serves as musical arranger and supervisor; Patrick Brady is musical director and vocal arranger. Doug Besterman provided the orchestrations.
The musical is being produced by Rocco Landesman, SFX Theatrical Group, the Frankel, Viertel, Baruch, Routh Group, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Rick Steiner, Robert F X Sillerman and Mel Brooks, in association with James D. Stern/Douglas Meyer and by special arrangement with Studio Canal. Producer Landesman told Newsday (Dec. 14, 2000) he thought the show was "Pretty damn funny. We're back to that rare, unheard-of genre, musical comedy." The St. James Theatre’s previous tenant, Swing!, closed Jan. 14, 2001.
In The Producers, Nathan Lane plays Max Bialystock, an overbearing theatrical producer who was once the toast of Broadway but has now fallen on hard times. Matthew Broderick will be Leo Bloom, a shy accountant who, under Max's tutelage, finally blossoms — albeit into a criminal. Cady Huffman, best known for playing Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies, will be the leads' sexpot secretary, Ulla; Gary Beach (Beauty and the Beast's candelabra) is effete director Roger DeBries; and Ron Orbach (Laughter on the 23rd Floor) is unregenerate Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind. Tony winner Roger Bart (You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and currently in Off-Broadway’s Full Committed) is Carmen Gia, Roger's even-more-effeminate manservant.
Other performers include Madelaine Doherty, Kathryn Fitzgerald, Eric Gunhus, Peter Marinos, Jennifer Smith, Ray Wills, Jeffrey Denman, Bryn Dowling, Robert H. Fowler, Adrienne Gibbons, Ida Gilliams, Kimberly Hester, Naomi Kakuk, Jamie LaVerdiere, Matt Loehr, Brad Musgrove, Christina Marie Norrup, Angie L. Scwhorer, Abe Sylvia and Tracy Terstriep.
Recent media reports have confirmed that the role of the florid LSD, the hippie rock singer drafted into playing Adolf Hitler, has been eliminated, though elements of LSD show up in a new and different character. LSD's environmental anthem, "Love Power," is also gone. Currently in the score, aside from the movie's well-known musical parody tunes "Springtime for Hitler" and "Prisoner of Love," are "We Can Do It," Liebkind's lullaby to the fatherland titled "In Old Bavaria," which is followed by a mockery of Bavarian dance, "The Guten Tag Hop Clop," director DeBries and Carmen Gia's anthem "Keep It Gay," "If You've Got it, Flaunt it," "Where Did We Go Right?" and a duet for Bloom and Ulla called "That Face."
Syndicated columnist Cindy Adams reported (Nov. 8, 2000) that the stage musical will feature a dance-off between Hitler and Winston Churchill, an idea only alluded to in the film (“Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill... Hitler was a better painter than Churchill. He could paint an entire house in one afternoon — two coats!”). Adams also said the show’s producers and press agents are considering sending out critics’ invitations on fake $100 bills — a reference to the scene in the film in which Max tries to bribe a critic entering on opening night. (For the record, the affronted scribe crumples the bill and tosses it onto the street.) The Barlow-Hartman press office had no comment on Adams’ report.
Equity auditions for The Producers were held in mid-August 2000, though the Lane casting was in the works long before that. (In a March 2, 2000 appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," Brooks, a guest on the show, pulled a contract for the musical out of his pants and told Lane, who was Letterman’s guest host, to sign it. Brooks told the crowd he wanted Lane to star in the planned stage musical, presumably in the Max Bialystock role originated by Zero Mostel. Lane, who then went on to star in the Roundabout's The Man Who Came to Dinner, agreed.) Broderick's name had been rumored for months, although early reports had Martin Short as Brooks' first choice for the nebbishy Bloom, with Evan Pappas (The Immigrant) also considered during the early reading stages.
Theatregoers can be forgiven for keeping an extra-close eye on every aspect of The Producers. Not only is Brooks' 1968 film on many lists as the funniest film ever made, the plot-line is about Broadway itself. Brooks' Oscar-winning screenplay tells of a larger-than-life but down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who enlists a meek tax accountant, Leo Bloom, to help him get back on top. The scheme is not to mount a hit play, but to raise a lot of money, produce a great stinking flop, and then disappear before paying back the investors. What better choice for a disaster than "Springtime For Hitler," a dramatic love-letter to Der Furher penned by a German lunatic living in a Brooklyn tenement? After securing the property, Max and Leo add a flamboyant director and a stoned hippie leading man, all but ensuring that "Springtime For Hitler" will be excruciatingly bad. Only it turns out, it's so bad, it's funny...
Back in late March 2000, director-choreographer Stroman (Contact, The Music Man) told Playbill On-Line, "We're actually going to do a reading of [Mel's] musical," "He's written the musical and lyrics and the book. Every single page is funny."
At a press preview of the show in mid-January, creator Brooks described The Producers as "a love letter to Broadway and it's really a backstage musical. It should have always been a Broadway musical. The satire, the irony, Springtime for Hitler, all that craziness."
For tickets ($30-$90) and information on The Producers at the St. James Theatre call (212) 239-6200.