With the official opening of the Mel Brooks' musical The Producers in Chicago, the theatre looks to be experiencing something it has missed all season, and really for some years: mania. The long-aborning Producers, based on Brooks' 1967 film of the same name, has long provoked interest, due primarily to what many thought ripe material for a musical comedy. Once the forever campaigning Brooks secured the services of director-choreographer Susan Stroman and actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, interest grew into excitement. But since Brooks and company previewed a few numbers for the press a few weeks ago, excitement has sky-rocketed into near delirium. Folks—the press not least of all—are going nuts for anticipation of this show.
The opening at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre—the theatre with a name like a George W. fundraiser's Texas ranch—was a producers' dream. The reviews in the Chicago Tribune, The Sun-Times and Variety, aside from quibbling about a few second act problems, basically howled that the show was perfect and could charge on and conquer New York as is. People has since labeled it perhaps the most successful out-of-town tryout in theatre history (how's that for hyperbole). Here in New York, the musical has found its biggest booster in none other that the New York Post's frequently (and cheerfully) virulent Michael Riedel, who has gotten behind the show as if it were the anti-Seussical. Every other week, he urgently prompts his readers to fend off untold years of regret and sorrow by dropping everything and purchasing tickets to the Broadway run immediately. One might think he was talking about tickets for the last helicopter out of Saigon.
His petitions, and word of mouth, seem to be working. The show is quickly building up a handsome figure in advance sales. Whether the hype is overdone remains to be seen, but a potential theatrical juggernaut like The Producers can only be good for what, so far, has been a decidedly lackluster New York theatre season. One need only remember the effect The Lion King had a few years back to know how one tremendous critical and box office hit can lift up the entire theatre community.
The Olivier Awards, London's top theatre honors, were announced on Feb. 23. The Broadway producers of Marie Jones' Stone in His Pockets were no doubt cheered to see their play win for best comedy. However, Andrew Lloyd Webber, nominated for The Beautiful Game and producer Cameron Mackintosh, the man behind The Witches of Eastwick, may have been it thrown off balance when Stephen Sondheim's 20-year-old work, Merrily We Roll Along won best musical.
Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh would do better to worry less about old Sondheim shows and more about the upcoming British musical All You Need Is Love and the trend it signifies. The show, which tells the story of a love affair through a series of hits by The Beatles, is the latest offspring of the Bee Gees-fueled Saturday Night Fever and the smash ABBA musical Mamma Mia!. It will open in May. If extant pop songs strung together by an incidental plot represent the future of the musical theatre, what's to become of the craft of the composer, lyricist and bookwriter? Time will tell. Elsewhere in England, veteran actor Edward Petherbridge knows how to spin gold out of lead. Last year, he joined the cast of the courtroom drama, The Accused. That ill-fated play was penned by the ill-fated politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer, who also starred. Archer can't pass a month in London without inspiring another scandal. And most critics counted The Accused among them—the play closed in the West End after six weeks, on Jan. 20. But Archer always bounced back somehow, and this time its courtesy of Petherbridge. If the former's play was a failure, that doesn't mean it will be forgotten; in March, Petherbridge will star in a Leeds production of his own Defending Jeffrey, a personal looks at the actor's experiences in the doomed production. Perhaps Archer could star as Petherbridge in future stagings of the play.