Mel Brooks doesn't want to tinker with his Broadway smash based on his hilarious 1968 film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The Broadway musical movie, some 38 years after the original, has The Producers saluting the old stage classics. But, while the mirth is still there, the direction by the unexperienced (in film) Susan Stroman is uninspired.
Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, for those uninitiated to the show, are Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, a bad Broadway producer and a timid, edgy accountant.
Bloom springs an idea for the down on his luck Max from some new accounting that they could profit more from a flop than a hit.
It comes in the form of a musical called "Springtime For Hitler", the lousiest play thought up, penned by Teutonic pigeon-raising Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), and directed by the awful Roger De Bris (Gary Beach). After hiring the cross-dressing flouncer in De Bris, they'll retain the services of leggy Swedish dancer Ulla (Uma Thurman) as a receptionist/secretary.
Stroman, with Brooks co-writing the screenplay, maintains the broad theatrical nature of the source with nothing dissimilar to the stage sets. It's even more like watching a play than the movie version of Rent. There's an outrageousness that Lane and Broderick have with their characters that they are so obviously comfortable with and the chemistry is still palpable (they're on stage now on the Great White Way in "The Odd Couple"). While there is wit in many of their scenes, their performances don't grab us like they did on stage, especially Broderick, who doesn't match well at all on screen with Thurman.
Ferrell and Thurman show off song and dance skills they are obviously not known for, but it's Roger Bart who really is the scene-stealer as Carmen Ghia, De Bris's assistant. The facial expressions and gestures work best given Stroman's beginnings behind the camera, and he arguably surpasses his work on stage. Fans of the show will enjoy the musical numbers, with their lively wackiness, satire, and slapstick.
However, like Rent, The Producers isn't a taut, wonderfully raucous experience. But, with the many endings, there is a funny interlude with Ferrell during the end credits and Brooks himself showing up to get rid of any stragglers in the audience.