Nathan Lane gives a million-dollar performance in The Producers. Unfortunately, it's a $10 million show. Just kidding! Based on Mel Brooks' 1968 film, The Producers will give Broadway an end-of-season lift, and launch Lane towards his second Tony Award. Cultists will find the film's tone intact, while those coming fresh should be captivated by this snappy, old-fashioned scene-and-song musical comedy.
Brooks ( book, music and lyrics ) , Thomas Meehan ( book ) and director/choreographer Susan Strohman have rendered a high-energy affair that races through three hours with Brooks' signature combination of comic brilliance and bad taste. For example, the gay characters and lone female are stereotypes, but never are mocked and mostly are too outrageous to offend
The musical vs. movie pushes back the time from 1968 to 1959, eliminating the flamboyant hippie who played Hitler in the show-within-the-show. Hitler now falls to the character of Roger De Bris, the theater queen who stages Springtime for Hitler. Also, Bialystock and Bloom get a post-prison happy ending. Otherwise, key scenes from the film remain intact, including Little Old Ladyland and the Lincoln Center fountain cameo.
Brooks has written 15 new songs for the show, not one of which is memorable. However, all of them work hard to advance story or characters and are seamlessly integrated with the book. Favoring patter and obvious end rhymes, many lyrics are crassly comic although never Cole Porter witty.
Strohman and her designers give the show a 1950's wing-and-drop Broadway look, and fill it with references to famous musicals such as Fiddler, Cabaret and A Chorus Line. There are scenic references to real Broadway locales and ersatz marquees for such shows as "Katz," "Maim" and "She Stupps to Conquer."
Nathan Lane towers above all as Max Bialystock, the aging roue of a producer. With perfect timing, masterful triple takes and hang-dog looks, boundless energy and oversized personality, Lane may be the only actor who COULD play Bialystock. He stops the show late in Act II with "Betrayed," a brilliant recap of the entire story.
Matthew Broderick is winningly winsome and geekish as less flashy Leo Bloom, the meek accountant who partners with Bialystock. The Producers was the first of several Brooks films to explore older man/younger man mentorships, but that's another story. Broderick is solid in his big numbers, "I Wanna Be a Producer" and "Til Him." Although he doesn't own the role as Lane owns Bialy, both Lane and Broderick emphatically step out of the long film shadows of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
Classically blonde, buxom and big-voiced Cady Huffman dazzles as Swedish sexpot Ulla, the only female role. Gary Beach is strong as De Bris, but Tony winner Roger Bart is underutilized as his lover, Carmen Ghia.