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‘The Producers’ thrives on bad taste

Film reprises off-color jokes, right down to the last singing Nazi
/ Source: Reuters

Bad taste triumphs again as dancing Nazis, randy old ladies, flamboyant gays and a Swedish bombshell frolic in Mel Brooks’ mad world of two scheming Jewish theatrical impresarios in the new musical film version of “The Producers”.

A show biz phenomenon and paradigm of political incorrectness, “The Producers” is unveiled in its third incarnation with Friday’s opening of the movie based on the smash Broadway musical that was based on Brooks’ 1968 film that first spawned the splendor of “Springtime for Hitler.”

It stars the same magnetic duo that took Broadway by storm, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, in a story that plays on the popular American pursuit of profit through deceit.

“First it was a movie, then it was a Broadway musical. Now that it’s a Broadway musical movie, we’re looking at claymation,” said Lane. “That’s Mel’s joke.”

When mousy accountant Bloom innocently notes how a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit, down-on-his-luck Bialystock runs with the idea, determined to find the worst script and worst director and raise millions from little old ladies that crave affection.

Giddy over their great luck in finding “Springtime for Hitler,” a feel-good musical about the rise of the Nazis, Bialystock and Bloom are undone when the hideous spectacle is embraced as a hilarious comedy.

“Where did we go right?” is Max’s lament.

Besides the winning chemistry of Broderick and Lane, who are again playing to standing room on Broadway in Neil Simon’s ”The Odd Couple,” laughs flow from the featured actors.

Will Ferrell has a field day as the Fuehrer-loving author of “Springtime for Hitler,” statuesque Uma Thurman displays surprising musical comedy gifts as the stunning Swede secretary, Ulla, and Gary Beach and Roger Bart reprise their brilliant Broadway performances as the over-the-top gay couple that steers the would-be flop to unexpected heights.

Susan Stroman repeats her dual duties as director and choreographer and and captures the feel of a classic MGM screen musical in a faithful adaptation of the show that revived Brooks’ notable career with a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001.

Brooks in the backgroundBrooks, who will turn 80 next June, is absent other than to offer a funny farewell during the film’s entertaining credits. He receded from the production after the death in June of his wife of 40 years, the actress Anne Bancroft.

After winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for 1968’s “The Producers,” starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, Brooks went on to direct and co-author such classic 1970s film comedies as “Blazing Saddles,” and “Young Frankenstein.” Other successes followed but the pace slackened.

“This show changed his life,” said Lane. “It was one of the happiest times in his life. He loved the theater. It sort of revitalized him in a way. Just going to work every day, collaborating with people, the live audience, all of that. He always loved the theater. It was really a delight to see him that happy and tickled by this experience.”

Why the enduring success of “The Producers,” whose songs were also written by Brooks? “’The Producers’ is a once in a lifetime phenomenon,” said Lane.

“I think people were ready for Mel Brooks again,” said Beach, whose comic turn as Hitler is a highlight. “When was the last time you were in a theater and really laughed?”

Bart, exquisitely effeminate as the director’s life partner and assistant, Carmen Ghia, said: “This isn’t a Sondheim musical. Mel Brooks did not have to put an article in the New York Times explaining the show. It’s smart, but it’s not so complicated.”

'The perfect end'Broderick said the response was immediate when they began performing it in Chicago before bringing it to Broadway.

“It just seemed from the minute we started doing it, audiences wanted more. Even jokes that weren’t very good, they laughed.

“Some people said it was the silliness of it, that it was politically incorrect, a musical that was just entertaining.”

Lane noted how jokes fly from all directions. “You know, you get references to Kafka and Tolstoy and then Borscht Belt punch lines. It goes all over the place.”

After trying it out in Chicago, playing a year on Broadway and then a special return engagement of three months, followed by a stint overseas to launch the London version, Lane sounded a note of closure.

“I think the perfect end for this is to have it on film. That’s a great way to end this whole experience,” said Lane, who joked, “It’s the sex and not going to bed angry” that were keys to his successful partnership with Broderick.

“We have no plans for the future,” Lane said about hooking up with Broderick and Brooks for another project. “We would like to see other people.