After an early autumn of delays and casualties, the season of new musicals is finally taking shape on Broadway, what with all signs pointing toward The Full Monty as a hit, Jane Eyre, Seussical and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all on-target to open, and The Rhythm Club and Thoroughly Modern Millie still likely to reach New York. Not to be left out is The Producers, which is in the final stages of casting and targeting rehearsals starting Dec. 4. Tickets go onsale Dec. 3 via Telecharge for the musical comedy (though a special promotion beginning Nov. 12 will allow American Express Card holders to purchase tickets early, through Dec. 2). The Producers will start previews March 22, 2001 and open April 19 at the St. James Theatre. The venue’s box office opens Dec. 4, according to spokesperson John Barlow. Last week, the St. James’ current tenant, Swing!, announced that it would close Jan. 14, 2001.
Nathan Lane will play 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. Brooks and Thomas Meehan (Annie) are collaborating on the tuner.
Several other names have been mentioned as likely for the cast, though as of Nov. 9, production spokespersons at Barlow-Hartman were offering no official casting beyond Lane and Broderick. Among names in the hopper are Cady Huffman, best known for playing Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies, as the leads' sexpot secretary, Ulla; Gary Beach (Beauty and the Beast's candelabra) as effete director Roger DeBries; and Ron Orbach (Laughter on the 23rd Floor) as unregenerate Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkin.
Word on the street has it that Tony winner Roger Bart (You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown) is close to signing for Carmen Ghia, Roger's even more-effeminate manservant, but that could not be confirmed at press time. (Bart went into Off-Broadway's Fully Committed Sept. 12.) Casting for ensemble roles is still being finalized. Apparently, 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. No word yet on whether LSD's environmental anthem, "Love Power," is still in the show.
Syndicated columnist Cindy Adams reported (Nov. 8) 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 says 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 musical is being produced by Rocco Landesman, Frankel, Viertel, Baruch & Routh Group, Miramax, Rick Steiner and Robert F X Sillerman. Equity auditions were held in mid-August, though the Lane casting was in the works long before that. (In a March 2 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, currently starring 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, 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."