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Theater adaptation fails to produce results

Grace Myers | Wednesday, January 25, 2006

“The Producers” is a movie based on the Broadway musical which, in-turn, was based on a movie about a play. But don’t worry, no musical is too complicated and “The Producers” is not an exception.

Despite its 37-year life, most people recognize “The Producers” from the famous, impossible-to-get-tickets-to, award-winning Broadway musical in which Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick starred five years ago. In the film, director Susan Stroman recreates the theatrical performance for thousands of holiday season movie-goers.

The movie begins when the unlucky producer Max Bialystock (Lane) meets with his mousey accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick). Feeding off Bloom’s dream to be a Broadway producer, Bialystock convinces him to become his partner in a surefire flop and then pocket all of the investors’ money. They dig through piles of scripts to find the worst one, settling on “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical praising the Fuhrer and “certain to offend peoples of all races, creeds and religions.”

They then must work to produce the play, meeting Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), the pigeon-loving Nazi playwright, and the cartoonishly beautiful Swedish actress/receptionist Ulla (Uma Thurman). They hire the worst possible director, Robert DeBris (original cast member Gary Beach), who believes that no one goes to the theater for a serious production and therefore lives by his personal showbiz motto: “Keep it light, keep it happy, keep it gay!” All the while, Bialystock woos elderly widows for money and Bloom dreams of his new life as a wealthy Broadway producer.

Despite all their scheming to the contrary, “Springtime for Hitler” is an instant success, as audiences see it as an ironic spoof on Nazism and Hitler. This, and the proceeding action, proves hilarious, probably even more so for today’s audiences, who might expect irony, rather than audiences of 37 years ago when the first movie debuted.

Stroman, a successful Broadway and off-Broadway director, did not have any previous experience with film. She fulfills the task of portraying the energy of the stage show – for example, Lane’s fast-paced, frenzied musical number “Betrayed” is absolutely brilliant. However, the movie loses much of its energy without any live audience interaction and because of its considerable length. Movie-goers are fortunate to see the unique comedic relationship between Lane and Broderick.

It’s obvious they did hundreds of performances and are in-tune with each other; some of their scenes actually seemed as if they were completed in just one take. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell, the two notable additions whom theatrical purists scoffed, had remarkable performances, displaying great ease behind the camera that other actors sometimes lacked.

“The Producers” feels more like watching a play than a movie, as if someone just set a camera up on stage and let the actors do what they have done hundreds of times. This, much to critics’ dismay and disapproval, was its most original and endearing quality. Other musicals-turned-movies, such as “Chicago” and “Rent,” digressed considerably from their original theatrical performances, using all the cinematic tricks the director could think up.

“The Producers” however, remains true to its theatrical form, indeed the form that brought it so much success. Actors use large, exaggerated motions while wearing colorful costumes, and the dance choreography is exactly what one would expect to see during the play. The sets, despite a few outdoor locations, seem as if they were taken straight from the playhouse in New York City.

The movie impresses with the close relationships between the actors and the comedic brilliance of the script. It is indeed entertaining, but does not live up to its potential, leaving many movie-goers unsatisfied, desiring to just go see the play.