SHORT TAKE: “The Producers” (***)

Posted by · 12:00 pm · December 1st, 2005

The ProducersI never saw the stage production of Mel Brooks’s “The Producers.” It was the certifiable “it” item of the 2001 Tony Awards (taking in a record-breaking 12 wins).

Now I’m fairly sure the film production is the stage musical on celluloid, with the typical additives that enhance the overall world that inhabits the story. If so, I really wish I had been able to make it out to a theater four years ago to give this thing a look.

So, that said, if this brief reaction to the film comes off as a rave of the musical production many of you have already seen, forgive me – but this was a fun time at the movies.

Mel Brooks has established a long lineage of toilet humor as his career has progressed. His stories have gone from Oscar-caliber (Best Original Screenplay winner “The Producers” in 1968 – on which his musical production was based) to irreverent and fun schlock (“Spaceballs,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”). But “The Producers,” even from that seed planted so long ago, is about something much, much more. It is a nod to, and a slap in the face of the business of show.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their roles here, with Lane especially perpetuating the fact that he is a living, breathing showman as Max Biayalostock. He’s had the “stuff” above and beyond in his numerous stage and film performances, not least of which being his SAG nominated turn in Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage.

Broderick is appropriately finicky in the role of Leo Bloom, made famous (and Oscar nominated) by Gene Wilder in the original film. And it should also be said that director Susan Stroman makes fine use of humor through close-ups where Bloom is concerned.

The real hilarity ensues (as I’m sure it did on Broadway) in the form of Gary Beach’s and Roger Bart’s screaming queen duo. Beach, in fact, could be a contender to watch in the Best Supporting Actor race. He’ll have them in the aisles.

Mark Friedberg’s concise and suitably filmic production design really pops off the screen, serving as a character in it’s own right, while other technical aspects, most especially William Ivey Long’s costume design, are appropriately over-the-top, with the right touch of nostalgia.

I have to say, though, that I was struck by the existence of “The Producers” as a descendant of the world of Gene Kelly – hence the title of this piece. It would be a disastrous stretch to mention this film in the same breath as Singin’ in the Rain, but both offer that escapist musical fun with a capital “F” that is woefully absent from a lot of cinematic output in this modern era.

I had a GREAT time with this film, and any criticisms of quality and artistry (if such criticisms exist) have to go out the window when a movie elicits such strong feelings of satisfaction.

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