Franz Liebkind Wins an Oscar as Orbach's Knee Caps Producers Cast Change

By David Lefkowitz
and Christine Ehren
28 Feb 2001

By pretty much all accounts, The Producers, Brooks and Meehan's stage adaptation of Brooks' classic film comedy, is coming to Broadway in as healthy shape as a new musical could wish for. The show's try-out at Chicago's Cadillac Palace, which ended Feb. 25, was sold out before it even started (Feb. 1), reviews were "amazing," and the production pulls into the St. James Theatre with "a healthy advance" (the New York Post has reported $6 million), a spokesperson for the show told Playbill On-Line.



By pretty much all accounts, The Producers, Brooks and Meehan's stage adaptation of Brooks' classic film comedy, is coming to Broadway in as healthy shape as a new musical could wish for. The show's try-out at Chicago's Cadillac Palace, which ended Feb. 25, was sold out before it even started (Feb. 1), reviews were "amazing," and the production pulls into the St. James Theatre with "a healthy advance" (the New York Post has reported $6 million), a spokesperson for the show told Playbill On-Line.

Director-choreographer Susan Stroman has been making nips and tucks throughout the run, including the publicized removal of a Gypsy song parody that Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim objected to, but otherwise the only other major glitch was in Ron Orbach's knee, which was injured in rehearsal. Orbach, who played German Nazi deifier Franz Liebkind, missed the previews and opening night (he was replaced by Brad Oscar) but returned to the production Feb. 20. His spirit was willing but the body wasn't ready, and Orbach left again before the end of the Chicago run. As reported by the New York Post and confirmed by the Barlow Hartman press office (Feb. 28), Orbach's now been officially replaced by Oscar, whose New York credits have included Aspects of Love, Jekyll & Hyde and Forbidden Broadway). Oscar's sister is Victoria Oscar, who's been playing Miss Hannigan in the Annie national tour.

The Producers will arrive at Broadway's St. James Theatre March 21 and officially open there April 19. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick co- star in the tuner, which is capitalized at $10.5 million.

New York/New Jersey's UPN/WOR Channel 9 will offer a two-hour TV special on April 22 that's almost an infomercial of interviews, backstage footage and audience members kvelling. Pat Collins will host the pre-recorded special, which has been taping segments since mid December 2000. Already in the can are interviews with all the major creatives, as well as footage of rehearsals and the show's open press rehearsal. The television special is to air three days after the Mel Brooks Thomas Meehan tuner opens at the St. James Theatre.

Roger Bart, Gary Beach, Cady Huffman and the aforementioned Roger Orbach co-star alongside Lane and Broderick in The Producers, which also boasts 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, actor Lane plays Max Bialystock, an overbearing theatrical producer who was once the toast of Broadway but has now fallen on hard times. Broderick will be Leo Bloom, a shy accountant who, under Max's tutelage, finally blossoms — albeit into a criminal.

Huffman, best known for playing Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies, will be the leads' sexpot secretary, Ulla; Beach (Beauty and the Beast's candelabra) is effete director Roger DeBries; and 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.

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."

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."

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.

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.