This is the film adaptation of the 2001 Broadway musical adaptation of the 1968 Mel Brooks film, a comedy classic starring Zero Mostel as Broadway producer Max Bialystock and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, his accountant. After Bloom makes an off-the-cuff remark about how investors in failed productions don’t get their money back, they concoct a plan to oversell shares in a show that is guaranteed to fail and keep all the money. They pick the worst script, the worst director and the worst actor. It seemed like the plan couldn’t miss.
I saw the Los Angeles run of The Producers starring Jason Alexander and Martin Short. To be more accurate, I saw the first act and then left at the intermission because I thought the musical was awful. The performances were bad; instead of creating the characters Bialystock and Bloom, Alexander was playing Nathan Lane, who created the role on Broadway, and Martin Short was playing Martin Short. I found the stereotypical Jewish and homosexual jokes a tad annoying and immature and the audience laughter frustrated me. The songs weren’t memorable, either.
For the musical adaptation, changes are made to the story. Ulla and director Roger DeBris have much larger roles now, and the character Lorenzo St. Dubois, played in the original by Dick Shawn, has been cut. In addition, the ending is more cheerful. For the film adaptation, the director/choreographer of the Broadway show, Susan Stroman, and most of the original cast made the transition, except for Cady Huffman, who played secretary Ulla, and Brad Oscar, who played playwright Franz Liebkind. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell performed those characters.
The Producers (2005) is fun, musical romp and I can see what all the hoopla was about. I enjoyed Lane and Matthew Broderick’s performances. They are a funny comedic team and are also good song and dance men. The musical numbers are very impressive in their design and choreography. The two standouts are the spectacular “I Wanna Be a Producer” and “Along Came Bialy” with its chorus lines of old women and their walkers.
However, I find myself hesitating when it comes to recommending the film. It’s great for fans of the musical and movie musicals in general, but what stops me from recommending it across the board is that the original film is better. On the stage presently, I doubt anyone could match the talents of Lane and Broderick, but as good as they are, Mostel and Wilder were funnier.
The Producers (2005) is two hours and fifteen minutes long. The Producers (1968) version is 88 minutes. There is not forty-five minutes of material so compelling that would make me recommend the new version over the old. The 2005 version is good and worth seeing; the 1968 version is great and is a must-see.
On the DVD extras, there are deleted scenes, some of which are songs from the musical that were cut. Film fans will especially enjoy the deleted scene of Bialystock and Bloom having a drink at the bar, prematurely celebrating the play’s failure. With them is a drunk played by Ernie Sabella, reuniting the trio from The Lion King. There’s fifteen minutes of outtakes, showing what a good time the cast and crew were having making the film. “Analysis of a Scene” examines the creation of and all the work that went into the “I Wanna Be a Producer” sequence. Stroman delivers the commentary track. She talks about the film, the Broadway musical and the creation of both. The cadence of her voice sounds odd. She comes off stiff as if she is reading her comments. She points out a lot of the allusions and inside jokes.
Watch the credits. Not only is there a number after them, but quite possibly the funniest part of the movie happens as Will Farrell’s character Franz Liebkind wraps up on “The Hop Clop Goes On.”