The 2001 Tonys

Corrections or additions?

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

Nuremberg,"

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

spoof/satire

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

Producers"

— 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

Producers"

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

Producers"

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

living

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

Hamlet),

plus "The Breaking Wind," "A Streetcar Named Murray,"

"South Passaic," and "High Button Jews."

When Leo Bloom (Broderick), a nerdish neurotic

accountant

comes to audit his books, he plants the seed that Bialystock could

make millions by overselling shares in a flop and pocketing the

surplus

when the show closed. A most unlikely fraudulent partnership is

formed.

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,

closet-Nazi

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

irrepressible

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

regimen,

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

unexpectedly

bright lyrics and tuneful score that Brooks has contributed without

swiping a note from Sondheim, Styne, or Berlin (pardon the pun).

Brooks’

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

The Producers, St. James Theater, 246 West 44 Street,

New York, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $100.

Top Of Page
The 2001 Tonys

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.

Although

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

combined

efforts of CBS and PBS television. PBS stations will produce and

broadcast

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,

"The

Producers" looks to shut out its formidable competition in almost

every category. The fact that you won’t get any odds on "The

Producers"

doesn’t preclude the other nominated shows from strutting.

Notwithstanding

the fact that Mel Brooks, "The Producer’s" writer, composer,

and lyricist, will undoubtedly be crowned the new "King of

Broadway"

(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

contender.

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

backside

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

"Seussical"

(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

building

for Yazbek.

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

playwright

August Wilson, whose exhaustingly melodramatic "King Hedley

II,"

is, nevertheless, fraught with brilliance. While it’s nice that

Charles

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

"42nd

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

imagined

and staged "Rocky Horror Show" might just pull off a surprise

win.

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

("One

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.

Best Play: David Auburn’s "PROOF," Tom Stoppard’s

"The Invention of Love," August Wilson’s "King Hedley

II," Charles Busch’s "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife."

Best Musical: "THE PRODUCERS," "A Class

Act,"

"The Full Monty," "Jane Eyre."

Best Book of a Musical: "THE PRODUCERS" (Mel

Brooks

and Thomas Meehan), "A Class Act" (Linda Kline and Lonny

Price),

"The Full Monty" (Terrence McNally) "Jane Eyre" (John

Caird).

Best Original Score: "THE PRODUCERS" (Mel Brooks),

"A Class Act" (Edward Kleban), "The Full Monty" (David

Yazbek), "Jane Eyre" (Paul Gordn and John Caird).

Best Revival of a Play: Gore Vidal’s "THE BEST

MAN,"

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."

Best Revival of a Musical: "42ND STREET,"

"Bells

are Ringing," "Follies," "The Rocky Horror Show."

Best Direction of a Play: JACK O’BRIEN ("The Invention

of Love"), Marion McClinton ("King Hedley II"), Ian

McElhinney

("Stones in his Pockets"), Daniel Sullivan ("Proof").

Best Direction of a Musical: SUSAN STROMAN ("The

Producers"),

Christopher Ashley ("The Rocky Horror Show"), Mark Bramble

("42nd Street"), Jack O’Brien ("The Full Monty").

Best Leading Actress in a Play: MARY LOUISE PARKER

("Proof"),

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").

Best Leading Actor in a Play: BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL

("King

Hedley II"), Sean Campion ("Stones in his Pockets"),

Richard

Easton ("The Invention of Love"), Conleth Hill ("Stones

in his Pockets"), Gary Sinise ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s

Nest").

Best Leading Actress in a Musical: MARIA SCHAFFEL

("Jane

Eyre"), Blythe Danner ("Follies"), Christine Ebersole

("42nd Street"), Randy Graff ("A Class Act"), Faith

Prince ("Bells are Ringing"),

Best Leading Actor in a Musical: NATHAN LANE ("The

Producers"), Matthew Broderick ("The Producers"), Kevin

Chamberlin ("Seussical"), Tom Hewitt ("The Rocky Horror

Show"), Patrick Wilson ("The Full Monty").

Best Featured Actress in a Play: VIOLA DAVIS ("King

Hedley II"), Johanna Day ("Proof"), Penny Fuller ("The

Dinner Party"), Marthe Keller ("Judgement at Nuremberg"),

Michele Lee ("The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife").

Best Featured Actor in a Play: CHARLES BROWN ("King

Hedley II"), Larry Bryggman ("Proof"), Michael Hayden

("Judgement at Nuremberg"), Robert Sean Leonard ("The

Invention of Love"), Ben Shenkman ("Proof").

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: CADY HUFFMAN ("The

Producers"), Polly Bergen ("Follies"), Kathleen Freeman

("The Full Monty"), Kate Levering ("42nd Street"),

Mary Testa ("42nd Street").

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: JOHN ELLISON CONLEE

("The Full Monty"), Roger Bart ("The Producers"),

Gary Beach ("The Producers") Andre De Shields ("The Full

Monty"), Brad Oscar ("The Producers").

Best Choreography: SUSAN STROMAN ("The

Producers"),

Jerry Mitchell ("The Full Monty"), Jim Moore, George Pinney

& John Vanderkloff ("Blast"), Randy Skinner ("42nd

Street").

Best Scenic Design: ROBIN WAGNER ("The

Producers"),

Bob Crowley ("The Invention of Love"), Heidi Ettinger

("The

Adventures of Tom Sawyer"), Douglas W. Schmidt ("42nd

Street").

Best Costume Design: WILLIAM IVEY LONG ("The

Producers"),

Theoni V. Aldredge ("Follies"), Roger Kirk ("42nd

Street"),

David C. Wollard ("The Rocky Horror Show").

Best Lighting Design: PETER KACZOROWSKI ("The

Producers"),

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer ("Jane Eyre"), Paul Gallo

("42nd Street"), Kenneth Posner ("The Adventures of Tom

Sawyer").

Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway

reservations

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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