The Producers Review |
Rolling along with the final credits in the new movie musical “The Producers��? are several bonus numbers. In one, they sing “So if you liked our show, then let’em know; but if nut, then keep your big mouth shut!��? I’m here to tell you that this film is rollicking good fun from beginning to end.
Once upon a time, Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) was about to have a tryst with one of the elderly women who patronize him. He got interrupted by Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), an accountant sent to straighten out his books. Hiding Leo in the toilet, Max takes up with his paramour, who before turning over a check wants to play the dirty little game of pretending she is a milkmaid and Max a “well-hung stable boy.��?
Leo, in looking over Max’s books is struck by a theoretical accounting situation; one could earn more money with a flop than a hit by raising two million dollars, closing after opening night having spent a small portion of that money, and then escaping to Rio. Max thinks that is genius; Leo has both scruples and qualms. Lane and Broderick will have you dancing in your seat, a smile on your face by the end of their first number.
Leo decides he wants out and is chased down to the street by Max. They cab it to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, Max all ready to celebrate their collaboration in the worst musical ever produced, but Leo chickens out and runs off to his accounting office.
His boss Mr. Marks (John Lovitz) treats him as the spineless nerd he is as a chorus of accountants crunch numbers into their calculators while singing “Unhappy, unhappy.��? Then Leo has a grand fantasy of being a Broadway producer. Scantily-clad showgirls come popping out of the file cabinets and before you know it, they’re high-kicking up a grand, light-bulb-lined staircase up to the heavens, which are illuminated with the name Leo Bloom. As Broderick’s voice soars with this number, so do a viewer’s spirits.
Leo returns to tell Max he wants in on the deal. Into Max’s office comes Ulla (Uma Thurman), a Swedish beauty with theatrical aspirations. She auditions by singing “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.��? Thurman has “it,��? in every conceivable sense, and flaunts it so well that she leaves Leo telling Max about the seismic excitement she’s caused him; Max explains: “That’s an erection.��?
Ulla is hired on the spot, to serve as a secretary-slash-receptionist until the show is selected. Max and Leo, in their quest for the worst possible script, happen across “Springtime for Hitler.��? Its author, Franz Liebkind (Will Ferril) must be convinced to let them produce it.
Up on Franz’s Manhattan roof, where he is sending carrier pigeons to Buenos Aires, Max and Leo arrive, prepared to do anything to get Franz’s signature. “Anything��? turns out to be singing along with Franz in the “Guten Tag Hop Clop.��? This number has all the fun of World War II with none of the violence; Max and Leo leave with a signed contract and swastika bands on their arms.
Now they must attach the world’s worst director to “Springtime for Hitler.��? They knock on the Upper East Side townhouse door of Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and are greeted with a horrible, extended queeny hiss by Roger’s “common law assistant,��? Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart).
Roger, dressed in a stunning evening gown and elbow-length white gloves, complains that a war isn’t a good subject for a musical. “Keep it Gay!��? is the ensuing number; and boy do they ever keep it gay. All of Roger’s stage people, his choreographer and so on, emerge from upstairs, clad as the Village People, gleefully prancing about as though Bloomberg had just decided to stand up for gay marriage by actually allowing it, instead of saying he is in favor of it and then forbidding it.
Sabu (Jai Rodriguez) serves drinks to this crowd, clad in a little bit of body glitter. The number ends when a dour butch lesbian appears at the top of the staircase and in a joyless monotone says: “Keep it gay.��?
Now Max needs to raise money from the elderly ladies who are his patrons. He leads them as they dance with their walkers across upper Fifth Avenue and into a blossoming Central Park. They all love his terrible shows and will give him whatever amount of money he wants so long as they can play with the “well-hung stable boy.��?
Max, Leo and Roger have a tough time finding an actor to play Hitler. The auditions are disastrous until Franz shows ‘em how it’s done, Will Ferril outdoing himself as a master of slapschtick. He gets the role.
A love affair has, meanwhile, been developing between Ulla and Leo. The risible sexual mismatch between them, she a gorgeous, 6-foot-tall knockout, he a goofy 5’8��? nerd allow them to pull off, in a most delightful manner, a pantomime of intercourse behind a couch.
On opening night of “Springtime for Hitler,��? Franz breaks his leg; Roger is persuaded to replace him. Even with all the trappings of Der Fuehrer, Roger comes off gay as a goose, convenient, as the role requires him to goosestep. Some of his backup goose-steppers are thick looking German dames, with outsized wursts cresting their heads and huge pretzels adorning their tutus.
Horror of horrors, “Springtime for Hitler��? is a huge success. Max and Leo are devastated. Ulla, Roger and Carmen arrive in their office to celebrate, just as Franz has burst in to kill them; he is angry because they broke the “Siegfried��? oath.
The police pile in, one officer discovers that Max had two accounting books. 1) Show to the IRS and 2) Never Show to the IRS. He’s hauled off to jail. Ulla talks Leo into taking the hidden money and running off to Brazil.
In his cell, Max receives a postcard from Ulla and Leo. His number “Betrayed!��? reprises his entire relationship with Leo; here Nathan Lane crowns himself in glory, his timing, singing, delivery, and dancing combining in one fabulous display of charisma that you could watch ten times and still find a smile coming to your face.
In the denouement, Max and Leo wind up sentenced to five years in Sing-Sing. Once there, they organize the other inmates to put on a show, “Prisoner of Love.��? Word comes that the governor has pardoned them, because they have brought joy to the hearts of all the murderers, rapists, and kidnappers in the prison.
“Prisoner of Love��? opens as a success on Broadway, and we see that it is followed by other hits including “She Shtupped to Conquer,��? and “South Passaic.��? As those final credits roll, Ferril sings the complete “Guten Tag Hop Clop��? -- “Wir tanzen, wir trinken, until we are just stinkin’.��? At the very end, “The Producers��? original creator Mel Brooks appears amid a bunch of showgirls and snarls “Get out, it’s over!��?
A movie musical can never deliver that “in the moment��? thrill enjoyed at a live show. In recompense, it can allow for scenery changes and special effects that a live show can’t hope to offer, and additionally can provide for fixed perfection in the song and dance and spoken bits. This movie musical delivers on all counts. Director Susan Stroman has everyone singing pretty much straight into the camera, except of course when they’re singing gay into the camera, and you can’t help but admire her for her way of getting them to sing gay into the camera. Roger De Bris’ mandate to “Keep it Gay��? is entirely realized; you will leave the theater gay, gay, gay, if not in the sexual sense.
By Scott Rose