Mike Davies reviews this week's cinema release
THE PRODUCERS * * *
CERT 12A, 134 MINS
First it was a film, then 35 years later it became a stage musical and now it's become a film of the musical of the film.
It's the same and it's different. Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy is a classic, the wonderfully cynical story of down on his luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock who, roping in producer wannabe accountant Leopold Bloom, sets out to make a fortune by staging a sure fire flop with the worst musical, the worst director and the worst cast. Naturally everything all goes horribly right.
With both musical and film version directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, there's moments when it mirrors Brooks' original almost note for note but, if you've not seen the stage show, for the most part the two follow the same story but with different scenes.
Particularly notable is the number on Bloom's office where he fantasises about life as a producer complete with beautiful girls clad only in pearls.
If you've seen the show, you'll probably be pleased to hear that, while Stroman's taken advantage of the medium to make use of New York locations, she's pretty much transferred the stage production to the screen intact.
That doesn't always work. The overt theatricality of the performances seems more pronounced on film while the brief pause for the applause after the numbers feels awkward.
Rather ill-advisedly she also retains a redundant third act prison cell number that recaps the story - and dialogue - so far for those with short term memory loss.
Feted on Broadway and the West End, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their stage roles as conman producer Bialystock and mousy accountant Bloom.
Having just experienced another flop with Funny Boy, his musical version of Hamlet (following in the wake of King Leer and The Breaking Wind), when Bloom observes that it would be possible to make more money with a flop than a hit, Max is inspired.
Cajoling Leo into joining him in the venture and raising money from his bevy of sex-starved blue rinse ladies, Max not only seizes upon Springtime For Hitler, a musical celebration of the Third Reich, for their production but casts its writer, lederhosen-wearing pigeon enthusiast Nazi Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), as Hitler.
Enlisting cross-dressing drama queen Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) - and his "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart) and flamboyantly gay entourage - to direct, the pair also count their blessings to find sexy Swede Ulla (Uma Thurman) to double as their leggy leading lady and secretary/receptionist.
Unfortunately, on opening night, Fritz truly does break a leg and De Bris steps into the role with disastrously triumphant results.
Lane and Broderick are no Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in terms of comic timing and banter (Broderick especially often seems to be trying too hard), but they are solidly seasoned and often inspired Broadway veterans whose rapport and song and dance experience give the film - which looks just like a 40s musical - a real zing.
Yet, ironically, while they're the motor of what little plot the narrative possesses, they're frequently straight men to both former (Beach and Bart) and new (Ferrell, Thurman) co-stars and even the set piece routines (the old ladies and their zimmer frames).
It almost goes without saying that the Springtime For Hitler number itself, complete with goose-stepping chorus girl stormtroopers, is a real show stopper. Would I recommend you see this rather than the Brooks movie if you've never seen it?
No. If you're a fan of the original, will you like this as much? Probably not.
But, if you enjoy camped up musicals and can recognise a Village People gag when you see one, then you'll not be disappointed. ..SUPL: