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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May 30,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Simon Saltzman Picks the Tonys
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the Nazis are causing
a fuhrer on Broadway. They have stood trial in "Judgement at
and rotted in their graves in "The Gathering." But even more
conspicuously, they are goose-stepping to the time-step in "The
Producers," the new musical that is Reich in its own way.
I hope we are all in agreement that Mel Brooks’ 1968 film "The
Producers" (which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) is one
of the most outrageous and provocative comedies ever made. As a
of the Broadway theatrical business, it has never been surpassed for
its sheer absurdity. The new Broadway musical version, written (in
collaboration with Thomas Meehan) and more fully composed by Brooks
(yes, he wrote the 20 new songs plus three from the film), is even
more outrageous and hilarious than the film.
To be sure, the 74-year-old Brooks makes a point with "The
— that to be truly and unashamedly funny you not only have to
be politically incorrect but also irreverently immature. Perhaps that
is why this $10 million show reminds us that musical comedy has been
dormant for years. Now it is alive, well, and winningly offensive
again. Notwithstanding the talent and money that has gone into making
this loony extravaganza, there is no question that "The
has all the sophomoric sophistication of a Princeton Triangle Club
show. So what’s not to like?
While some of Brooks’ films — including "Blazing Saddles,"
"Young Frankenstein," and "High Anxiety" — showed
off Brooks’ particular gift for irreverent humor, "The
remains his classic. It is now a classic musical comedy, albeit of
the neo-burlesque variety. Those who are easily offended by —
you name it — will want to stay home. The rest, who can take it
with a smile, will be hard put not to embrace the sheer brass and
brashness of the plot and the breathtaking pizzazz of the zany musical
numbers, as directed and choreographed to brazen perfection by (who
else?) Susan Stroman. But first and foremost, "The Producers"
is a star-driven show with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick vying
for the top banana spot.
The plot, inane to the point of transcendence, is basic enough. Max
Bialystock (Lane) is a has-been Broadway producer who has made a
with a series of flops financed by a string of rich old ladies whom
he regularly seduces. If you’re not too busy laughing at the sex play
in Bialystock’s office, cast your eyes on the posters of his shows
that decorate the walls: "Funny Boy" (a musical based on
plus "The Breaking Wind," "A Streetcar Named Murray,"
"South Passaic," and "High Button Jews."
When Leo Bloom (Broderick), a nerdish neurotic
comes to audit his books, he plants the seed that Bialystock could
make millions by overselling shares in a flop and pocketing the
when the show closed. A most unlikely fraudulent partnership is
The trick is find and produce a sure-fire flop.
Their choice: "Springtime for Hitler." How can they lose?
The show’s author, Franz Liebkind (Brad Oscar), is a lunatic,
who also trains pigeons to sing harmonically (Alfred Hitchcock, eat
your heart out). One chorus of "Der Guten Tag Hop Clop" and
he is hired to star in his own awful opus. To further guarantee the
failure of the venture, the duo hires Roger De Bris (played with
panache by Gary Beach), a director with the worst reputation in the
business. De Bris also happens to be a transvestite who won’t make
a move without his ultra affectedly gay "common law assistant"
Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart). I won’t be spoiling anything by letting
on that the show is a smash and they end up… Let’s just say their
next show is called "Prisoners of Love."
The show does not follow the screenplay entirely. There’s a genuine
romance between Bloom and Ula (Cady Huffman), the not-so-dumb singing
and dancing Swedish blonde secretary who, as part of her daily
has to have sex every morning at 11. Other gleeful departures include
De Bris getting to play Hitler when the star breaks a leg or two,
and (surprise!) a happy ending. The biggest boost comes from the
bright lyrics and tuneful score that Brooks has contributed without
swiping a note from Sondheim, Styne, or Berlin (pardon the pun).
book of course leaves no one and no stereotype unscathed — watch
out Jews, Germans, Swedes, gays, blacks, women, the aged, and the
handicapped. The latter send up is a riotous routine performed by
little old ladies and their aluminum walkers.
Not handicapped in the least by their screen predecessors are Lane
and Broderick who perform brilliantly, seamlessly, and flawlessly
together. The sheer force of Lane’s extroverted personality and the
broad physicality of Broderick’s neurotic behavior provide almost
more moments of unbridled hysteria than any one musical should have
to handle. Even if their material seems to come straight from the
schoolboys’ locker room, it appears to be saying that hoary shtick
and schmaltz can still be made fresh and funny. Just as remarkable
are the marvelous retro-styled settings by the brilliant Robin Wagner,
and the shameless costumes by William Ivey Long. There may be a lot
of kraut on stage, but never a sour moment. HHHH
New York, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $100.
If there is one thing you can bet on at the American
Theater Wing’s 55th Annual Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards,
it is the appearance of hosts Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
the two stars of the enormous Broadway hit "The Producers"
are competing against each other in the same category, they will also
be seen as the most winning combination on the stage of the Radio
City Music Hall where the annual event takes place this Sunday, June
3. Complementing this popular due will be presenters that include
Glenn Close, Edie Falco, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lily Tomlin, Sigourney
Weaver, and Tony-winner Dame Edna.
Once again, this year’s Tonys will be broadcast live through the
efforts of CBS and PBS television. PBS stations will produce and
the first hour (possibly the more interesting as it focuses on the
creativity backstage) from 8 to 9 p.m.; CBS will televise the two-hour
awards beginning at 9 p.m. Scenes from each of the nominated musicals
will provide the major entertainment in this segment.
In the event that you may have already have heard enough about how
great "The Producers," is, here is a story you haven’t heard.
A couple that I know ordered tickets the day the reviews came out.
They are now looking forward to seeing the show next December. In
the meantime, they decided to rent the 1968 movie with Zero Mostel
and Gene Wilder. During the film, they began to laugh long and loud.
Hearing them, their two girls, ages 5 and 6, sneaked quietly into
the room and began watching. The next morning the parents were amused
by the sounds of their girls running around the house repeating, in
their near perfect sing-song mock Swedish accents "Bialystock
and Bloom, Bialystock and Bloom," over and over. How cute, they
thought, that is until it was time for them to leave for school.
As they left the house heading for the school bus, the girls began
to sing together at the top of their lungs, "Springtime for Hitler
and Germany." It was clear that they had to be stopped before
someone not in the know heard them. After a short explanation to them
that the song would not be appropriate for singing on a school bus,
the parents went back inside to consider what might have happened
if some show-biz challenged school official thought the girls were
advancing Nazi ideology, and that their parents were some dangerous
political extremists. Broadway is such an educator.
Earning 15 Tony nominations (a record), including Best Musical,
Producers" looks to shut out its formidable competition in almost
every category. The fact that you won’t get any odds on "The
doesn’t preclude the other nominated shows from strutting.
the fact that Mel Brooks, "The Producer’s" writer, composer,
and lyricist, will undoubtedly be crowned the new "King of
(one of the 19 songs Brooks penned for the show), there are the dark
horses to consider and possibly root for.
Until the "The Producers" appeared, "The Full Monty,"
with 10 nominations, including Best Musical, was the hottest
Also based on a 1998 film (of the same name), "The Full Monty"
can boast that its light rock score by Broadway newcomer David Yazbek,
and its likeable bevy of male bump and grinders, needn’t take a
seat to any show in town.
Although the biographical "A Class Act" was a small show by
Broadway standards, it showed off a big musical heart as well as the
personal heartbreak of the show’s late composer Edward Kleban (famed
as the Tony Award-winning lyricist of "A Chorus Line"). It
seems unjust that the show’s star Lonny Price, who also co-wrote and
directed it, did not get a best performance bid.
Also unjust is the failure of the delightful family musical
(recently closed), which was shut out as a nominee for the likes of
the dreary and dour "Jane Eyre." Although Brooks deserves
accolades for his score, insiders suspect there might be a sentimental
backlash for Kleban’s wonderful score. A groundswell may also be
You can always count on at least one British snob import to take some
of the luster away from whatever the Americans are offering in the
Best Play category. This year it is Tom Stoppard’s "Invention
of Love," a stunningly staged and acted play, albeit wordy, about
the poet and Latin scholar A.E. Housman. Words never seem to fail
the complex and riveting characters created by African-American
August Wilson, whose exhaustingly melodramatic "King Hedley
is, nevertheless, fraught with brilliance. While it’s nice that
Busch’s farcical "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife" has found
favor on Broadway, it is a long-shot in the light of David Auburn’s
mathematically and dramatically-propelled "Proof," which has
already won this year’s Pultizer Prize.
It won’t be a surprise if the dazzlingly staged, melody filled
Street" takes the prize for Best Musical Revival. If "Bells
are Ringing," appears too slight and silly, and "Follies"
turned out to be only a ghost of its former self, the cleverly
and staged "Rocky Horror Show" might just pull off a surprise
Unlike last season when old masters Euripides, O’Neill, and Miller
ruled the play revivals, we are relying this season on less formidable
neo-classic contenders as Harold Pinter ("Betrayal"), Gore
Vidal ("The Best Man"), Jane Wagner ("The Search For Sign
Of Intelligent Life In The Universe"), and Dale Wasserman
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest"). Oddly, none of the above, however,
can touch the terrific revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s
"The Man Who Came to Dinner" (starring Nathan Lane, surely
deserving of a Best Actor nomination). Below are all the nominees
in all categories. I have indicated my guess for the winner
first, in capitals.
"The Invention of Love," August Wilson’s "King Hedley
II," Charles Busch’s "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife."
"The Full Monty," "Jane Eyre."
and Thomas Meehan), "A Class Act" (Linda Kline and Lonny
"The Full Monty" (Terrence McNally) "Jane Eyre" (John
"A Class Act" (Edward Kleban), "The Full Monty" (David
Yazbek), "Jane Eyre" (Paul Gordn and John Caird).
Harold Pinter’s "Betrayal," Dale Wasserman’s "One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s NEST," Jane Wagner’s "The Search for Signs
of Intelligent Life in the Universe."
are Ringing," "Follies," "The Rocky Horror Show."
of Love"), Marion McClinton ("King Hedley II"), Ian
("Stones in his Pockets"), Daniel Sullivan ("Proof").
Christopher Ashley ("The Rocky Horror Show"), Mark Bramble
("42nd Street"), Jack O’Brien ("The Full Monty").
Juliette Binoche ("Betrayal"), Linda Lavin ("The Tale
of the Allergist’s Wife"), Jean Smart ("The Man Who Came to
Dinner"), Leslie Uggams ("King Hedley II").
Hedley II"), Sean Campion ("Stones in his Pockets"),
Easton ("The Invention of Love"), Conleth Hill ("Stones
in his Pockets"), Gary Sinise ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Eyre"), Blythe Danner ("Follies"), Christine Ebersole
("42nd Street"), Randy Graff ("A Class Act"), Faith
Prince ("Bells are Ringing"),
Producers"), Matthew Broderick ("The Producers"), Kevin
Chamberlin ("Seussical"), Tom Hewitt ("The Rocky Horror
Show"), Patrick Wilson ("The Full Monty").
Hedley II"), Johanna Day ("Proof"), Penny Fuller ("The
Dinner Party"), Marthe Keller ("Judgement at Nuremberg"),
Michele Lee ("The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife").
Hedley II"), Larry Bryggman ("Proof"), Michael Hayden
("Judgement at Nuremberg"), Robert Sean Leonard ("The
Invention of Love"), Ben Shenkman ("Proof").
Producers"), Polly Bergen ("Follies"), Kathleen Freeman
("The Full Monty"), Kate Levering ("42nd Street"),
Mary Testa ("42nd Street").
("The Full Monty"), Roger Bart ("The Producers"),
Gary Beach ("The Producers") Andre De Shields ("The Full
Monty"), Brad Oscar ("The Producers").
Jerry Mitchell ("The Full Monty"), Jim Moore, George Pinney
& John Vanderkloff ("Blast"), Randy Skinner ("42nd
Bob Crowley ("The Invention of Love"), Heidi Ettinger
Adventures of Tom Sawyer"), Douglas W. Schmidt ("42nd
Theoni V. Aldredge ("Follies"), Roger Kirk ("42nd
David C. Wollard ("The Rocky Horror Show").
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer ("Jane Eyre"), Paul Gallo
("42nd Street"), Kenneth Posner ("The Adventures of Tom
can be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 .
Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
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