In 1968 the original movie version of Mel Brooks' The Producers was called everything from 'tasteless' to a 'masterpiece of low comedy'. The premise for the film was a simple one: shonky theatre producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) cooks up a failsafe plan to make a stack of money by taking a big fat loss. Aided and abetted by frustrated neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), they seek out the worst, most tasteless play in history, (musical 'Springtime For Hitler'), raise a million bucks from 'backers' to put it on ('Bialy' plays toy boy to his usual bevy of rich little old ladies), and hire the worst director not working on Broadway today, Roger DeBris (Christopher Hewett). Everything is in place for the boys to make a sure-fire flop and pocket the difference. Inadvertently though ' and here's the gag - Springtime For Hitler goes on to become a massive hit, a crowd pleasing comedy no less, and their plans for living the high life in Rio go down the proverbial' The Producers was Brooks' first film, filled with humour based on bad taste, corruption and a heightened, overt sense of camp rarely seen previous in American film. It established him as a Farrelly Brothers of his day, and while not a massive success at the time, paved the way for him to become one of America's most-loved genre satirists. It was dark, hilarious and ground-breaking. Over time it has become the cult hit it always deserved to be. In 2001 The Producers movie was turned into a smash hit Broadway musical making its way around the world with similar success (including Australia). And in 2006 - clearly to cash in on that success - The Producers has once again been transformed, now into a musical movie, directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Susan Stroheim, making her film debut. Many of the Broadway cast reprise their roles in the film, stars Nathan Lane (Mouse Hunt, The Birdcage) and Matthew Broderick (Election, The Cable Guy). Playing Bialystock and Bloom they tackle the film with gusto, belting out numbers and mugging for the camera at every opportunity. Wrestling with a substantial 'comb over' and seducing old ladies all the while, Lane revels in his bankrupt character. So do theatre veterans Gary Beach and Roger Bart as uber-camp director-choreographer duo Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia. And so do the rest of the cast, including an all singin all dancing Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, who mince, lisp and storm their way through flamboyant sets and 'the musical to end all musicals', Springtime For Hitler. The original movie version of The Producers was such a musical film it's easy to see why Brooks finally took it to Broadway, where it worked so well as a stage production, especially when the fabulously staged Springtime For Hitler pinnacle kicks in, perverse and hilarious in the best possible way. (This sequence is the highlight in the movies also). While The Producers retains much of the appeal of the play and the original film, it must also be said that this is a pretty lazy movie adaptation, pretty much a carbon copy of the play, really not much more than a filmed version of it. (Don't go expecting an adaptation as good as Chicago or anything Bob Fosse might've dished up in his movie-making hey day). Which probably won't upset fans of the live show, but it might fans of the original 1968 comedy, which, while no lavish production, was still cinematic, and for my taste, darker and less hokey. (Some of The Producers' leering humour has surely gone well-past its used by date). But you've got to hand it to Brooks. He has always been able to ring humour out of the most unlikely of subjects, and if nothing else The Producers reminds us of that unique talent. It is what it is and the theatre fans won't be disappointed.
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