Mrs. Cornell and I attended a production of The Producers this past weekend, and while we had a wonderful time, I find myself unable to heartily recommend the show.
I can recommend the movie, though. Not the recent Nathan Lane/Matthew Broderick musical, which I hear is ghastly, but the original 1960 flick starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It is, without question, one of the funniest movies ever made, and Mel Brooks’ finest hour, which is pretty sad when you consider it was his filmmaking debut.
Since the movie is about Broadway, it was a natural fit for an adaptation, unlike, say, Spamalot, which had to be twisted almost beyond recognition to make the jump from one medium to another. So what went wrong in Producerville in transition from screen to stage?
Well, if you ask most folks, the answer is nothing. It’s one of the biggest hits Broadway has seen in decades, and everyone around us seemed to be enjoying themselves. But there’s nothing in the show that wasn’t done better in the original film. And the vulgarity! I know I’m a prude and everything, but every change from the original screenplay involves providing obscene specifics to plot points that were plenty clear before. In the movie, we know exactly what Max Bialystock is doing with those little old ladies, so do we really need it fleshed out, so to speak, in all its perverted glory? We know what they’re doing with their Swedish receptionist, so why do we need it spelled out for us? And why the profanity? Who watches the original movie and thinks “You know what this show needs? Lots more swearing, more nudity, and really obvious innuendo, especially the gay stuff.” Guys, enough with the gay stuff! The movie had just a little of it, and a little goes an awfully long way.
That’s not to say that it was awful. The production number at the end of Act One, with the grannies using their walkers as part of a kickline, was hysterical. And the core of the original show is intact, and it’s very, very funny. The extended Springtime for Hitler sequence was priceless, especially the showgirl with the swirling swastika pasties on display.
But by the end of Act II, the show really starts to drag, and as Max reenacts the entire show in his Betrayed number, you start looking at your watch every few seconds. The show is padded; none of the new songs are particularly memorable, and you feel just a little dirtier when you walk out of the theatre as when you walk in.
Watch the original. Trust me, it’s funny.