From the brilliantly twisted mind of MEL BROOKS comes a scheme so clever, so bold and so disturbingly simple that it can't possibly go wrong:
Step One: You start with Broadway's smash hit The Producers--The New Mel Brooks Musical, winner of a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, and based on Mel Brooks' Oscar®-winning 1968 film The Producers.
Step Two: You have two major film studios, Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures, join forces to bring the musical play to the big screen.
Step Three: You enlist the phenomenal SUSAN STROMAN, winner of five Tony Awards, including two for directing and choreographing The Producers--The New Mel Brooks Musical on Broadway, to make her motion picture directorial debut with the film version.
Step Four: You bring the original Tony Award-winning stars, NATHAN LANE and MATTHEW BRODERICK, back to recreate their signature roles and surround them with two of Hollywood's biggest talents, Academy Award® nominee UMA THURMAN and comic superstar WILL FERRELL.
And before you can say "Step Five," you have the makings of the big, fun-filled, laugh-a-minute musical movie event audiences have been waiting for: The Producers.
Only one person in the world could have conceived of such a plan: the incomparable Mel Brooks, whose fabulous career comes full circle with this new film version of The Producers. Brooks was already a television veteran when he made his feature film directorial and writing debut with The Producers in 1968. The modestly budgeted comedy, starring Broadway favorite Zero Mostel and a newcomer named Gene Wilder, became a sleeper hit and earned Brooks an Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay.
At the time, movie audiences were shocked at the sheer audacity of the film's premise involving fading theatrical producer Max Bialystock (Mostel) and timid, neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder), who conspire to intentionally produce a Broadway flop in order to bilk the show's backers out of millions of dollars. The film has since become a classic.
Fast forward to 2001, when Brooks, having spent 30 years creating such comic masterpieces as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Silent Movie and Spaceballs, became the toast of Broadway with his stage musical of The Producers--with an original score by Brooks, book by Brooks and THOMAS MEEHAN (Annie, Hairspray) and choreography and direction by Susan Stroman (Contact, Crazy for You). The show's stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, both of whom had already scored successfully in movies and on Broadway in both plays and musicals--winning Tony Awards along the way--saw their careers soar to dazzling new heights in the career-defining roles of Bialystock and Bloom. The Producers was nominated for 14 Tony Awards and won 12, more than any other show in Broadway history. It received Tonys in each category it was nominated, including three for Brooks--for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book of a Musical.
A few years later, when serious conversations started taking place about a film version of the musical, Brooks was adamant that as many as possible of the talents responsible for the success of the original Broadway production would return for the film version, including director / choreographer Stroman, stars Lane and Broderick, as well as Tony Award winner GARY BEACH and Tony Award nominee ROGER BART, who, respectively, created the roles of the flamboyantly untalented director Roger DeBris and his common-law assistant Carmen Ghia.
However, there were a couple of opportunities for casting major talents who would be new to the project. The role of Ulla, Bialystock and Bloom's luscious Swedish secretary / slash / receptionist, was the perfect showcase for an actress to demonstrate her skills at comedy, singing and dancing. Everyone agreed that Uma Thurman--red-hot from her roles in Kill Bill: Vols. I and II and Oscar®-nominated for Pulp Fiction--could make the part her own. And to play the wildly demented Hitler-loving playwright, Franz Liebkind, none other than Hollywood's top comic actor, Will Ferrell, was given the chance to broaden his range with the role of the singing and dancing Nazi.
With Brooks producing, along with his frequent associate JONATHAN SANGER (The Elephant Man, Vanilla Sky), from a screenplay by Brooks and Meehan, the movie classic that became a Broadway sensation is now a comedy-musical movie event.
Jokes Brooks, "First it was a movie, then it was a Broadway musical, now it's going to be a Broadway musical movie. I think the next thing will probably be claymation."
Among the behind-the-scenes talent assembled to bring The Producers back to the screen are co-producer AMY HERMAN (Analyze That), cinematographers JOHN BAILEY (As Good as It Gets) and CHARLES MINSKY (Pretty Woman), production designer MARK FRIEDBERG (Far From Heaven), costume designer WILLIAM IVEY LONG (Broadway's Nine, La Cage Aux Folles) and film editor STEVEN WEISBERG (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).
FILM SYNOPSIS AND MUSICAL NUMBERS
"The concept is simple," says producer / writer / composer / lyricist Mel Brooks. "They've got to raise a lot more money than they need to put on a show. Then they've got to produce the worst play ever written. So they'll put on a show called Springtime for Hitler, which will close the same night, and they can run off to Rio with the rest of the investors' money." It's 1959, and Broadway is buzzing with some of the theater world's biggest names. Producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), however, is no longer one of them ("Opening Night"). One day, mousy accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) shows up at Bialystock's office to do his books and innocently remarks that, under the right circumstances, a dishonest man could make more money producing a flop than a hit show. Immediately, a light bulb goes off in Bialystock's head, and he tries to persuade the reluctant Bloom to join him in his perfect plan to embezzle a fortune by producing a sure-fire Broadway misfire and then skip town with the cash ("We Can Do It"). Unsure, Bloom returns to his dismal job and fantasizes about a much more glamorous life ("I Wanna Be A Producer"). Deciding he's had enough, he seizes the day and becomes Bialystock's partner in crime.
Searching for the ultimate bad play, Max and Leo discover "the mother lode," a musical entitled Springtime for Hitler--A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchesgarten. They decide to pay the playwright, Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a visit on his Greenwich Village rooftop. Before he will agree to let Bialystock and Bloom produce his play, however, the Nazi-loving Liebkind insists the two would-be producers join him in celebrating the Aryan way of life ("Der Guten Tag Hop Clop") and forces them to pledge allegiance to Hitler.
Having sealed the deal on what they are convinced is the worst play ever written, Bialystock and Bloom embark upon securing the most appropriately untalented director. Upon entering the piss-elegant apartment of Roger DeBris (Gary Beach) and his common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), the duo finds that DeBris and company are reluctant to take on such serious subject matter ("Keep It Gay") until the producers convince them that, in their hands, Springtime for Hitler could bring the director the respect and prestige (read: Tony) of which he's always dreamed.
When blonde Swedish bombshell Ulla (Uma Thurman) shows up at the office looking to audition ("When You Got It, Flaunt It"), Bialystock and Bloom hire her on the spot for the chorus. Until rehearsals, the panting duo agree that she'll work as their secretary / slash / receptionist.
In order to raise the two million dollars needed to "fund" the play, Bialystock must pay a visit to his demanding benefactors, hundreds of sex-starved little old ladies across Manhattan ("Along Came Bialy"). Meanwhile, the girl-shy Bloom becomes hopelessly smitten with Ulla ("That Face") and is surprised to find that the attraction is quite mutual.
Auditioning actors to star as the Führer proves frustrating for all involved in the production, particularly the musical's author--who perfectly demonstrates the way the role should be performed ("Haben Sie Gehurt Das Deutsche Band?") and proves he's the only man for the job. Right before the opening night performance, after a lively discussion of theater-world superstitions ("You Never Say Good Luck on Opening Night"), Bialystock and Bloom are horrified when their playwright-turned-leading man literally breaks a leg. The show must go on, however, and luckily director Roger DeBris knows all the character's lines. In the great tradition of backstage musicals, the starring role in the show goes to this last-minute substitute.
At first, the audience is horrified by Springtime for Hitler, but once the leading man appears as a fey Hitler ("Heil Myself"), they realize that this is not a show they should take seriously and begin to eat it up. When their surefire flop is hailed as a hit, the partners have a serious disagreement about what to do next. Bloom wants them to turn themselves in, while Bialystock has other ideas. As they argue, DeBris and Ghia show up at the office, ready to celebrate, only to have a deranged Liebkind arrive brandishing a gun…eager to kill all of them for denigrating the memory of his beloved Hitler. Hearing gunshots as they arrive on the scene, the police cart Liebkind away. Before they leave, however, they notice two sets of accounting books, one marked "Show to the IRS" and the other marked "Never Show to the IRS." They promptly arrest Bialystock, but Bloom escapes the raid while hidden behind the office door.
When Ulla enters and finds Bloom hiding, she convinces him to take the money and disappear with her to Rio. In his jail cell, Bialystock is surprised to receive a postcard from Brazil, and it sends him off the deep end ("Betrayed"). At Bialystock's trial, Bloom and Ulla suddenly appear ("'Til Him"), just in time for the judge to pronounce both Bialystock and Bloom guilty. Incarcerated in Sing Sing, they, along with Liebkind, produce a brand new musical with a cast of inmates titled Prisoners of Love. Pardoned by the governor "for having, through song and dance, brought joy and laughter into the hearts of every murderer, rapist and sex maniac in Sing Sing," Bialystock and Bloom take the show to Broadway, where they go on to produce hit after hit after hit.
"There's something timelessly appealing about this story," says director / choreographer Stroman. "Like any good musical, each character fulfills all his hopes and dreams. Audiences either see themselves in Leo Bloom, a caterpillar who wants to become a butterfly, or they see themselves as Max Bialystock, a man who was on top and wants to rise to the top again. Our movie also has an endearing love story--the mousy accountant wins the most beautiful woman in the world."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"He finished the song, looked down at me and said, 'Hello, I'm Mel Brooks.' And I thought, no matter what happens with this show, it's going to be a great adventure." Susan Stroman
The idea for a musical version of The Producers began in 1998, when music and film impresario David Geffen began to hound Brooks about turning Brooks' 1968 Oscar®-winning film into a stage musical. A great fan of the theater since his Uncle Joe took him to see Cole Porter's Anything Goes at the age of nine, Brooks had always had the desire to be a Broadway composer / lyricist. In fact, he had written numerous songs for his own films including "I'm Tired," "Doing the French Mistake" and the title song for Blazing Saddles, not to mention "Springtime for Hitler" and "Prisoners of Love" for The Producers.
At Geffen's suggestion, Brooks met with Broadway composer Jerry Herman (La Cage aux Folles, Mame, Hello, Dolly) to discuss the project. When they got together, Herman was sure he knew of a better candidate to write the original music for The Producers and began to play some of the writer's songs. That composer was Brooks.
So Brooks took the suggestion, tackled the songs and asked his old friend and collaborator Meehan (Spaceballs, To Be or Not To Be) to co-write the book. Meehan was a Tony-winning writer (Annie) and eagerly welcomed the opportunity to co-write a new musical.
When asked to meet with Brooks about the project, five-time Tony Award-winning director / choreographer Susan Stroman recalls, "I got a call saying Mel Brooks wants to meet you. Tonight." So the choreographer of such popular Broadway shows as Crazy for You, Oklahoma and Contact quickly stopped a rehearsal and went home. There was a knock at the door.
"I knew all of Mel's movies, and I knew all of his lines and I knew everything he'd done…so I was very excited," she recalls.
"I opened the door and there he was, this legend. But instead of speaking, he launched into full voice singing, "That Face" which opens Act Two of The Producers.
"He kept singing…he walked past me, all the way down the hallway and jumped on my sofa. He finished the song, looked down at me and said, 'Hello, I'm Mel Brooks.' And I thought, no matter what happens with this show, it's going to be a great adventure," she laughs. "And in fact, it has been one of the greatest times of my life."
Twelve Tony Awards, two national touring companies and three international productions later, Brooks asked Stroman, "If we were to make this show into a movie, what movie would you want to make it like?"
"When she answered, 'Singin' in the Rain,'" Brooks recalls, "I told her 'you've got the job!' Because Singin' in the Rain to me is the classic of what we call a head-to-toe musical--where you see the dancers, not just quick cuts to faces or eyes or ears, but you see a beautiful body in motion."
"When it came to directing advice," continues Brooks, "I told Susan you must say 'action' and then you say 'cut.' If you say 'cut' first and then 'action,' there'll be no film. I had to explain the rudiments. No, I'm kidding," he jokes. "I knew immediately that she would take to this. She has an incredible visual gift."
"Her transition to movies seems just effortless," observes Matthew Broderick, who has worked with Stroman since the first read-through of the musical in 2000.
"She's extremely prepared…a very hard worker," he continues. "You never get to a rehearsal and have to fill the time. She has it all very well planned out so you feel her strength and her smarts all the time."
Stroman was excited to approach filmmaking. With the eye of a seasoned stage director and choreographer, she loved the introduction of a camera into the mix. She notes, "In the theater, the audience sees everything in a wide shot; on film, I am able to use the close-up to tell the story more immediately and in a more intimate way. Plus, getting a close-up on the humorous faces of Nathan, Matthew, Gary and Roger heightens the comedy even more."
Jonathan Sanger, who early in his career worked for Brooks as an assistant director on High Anxiety before joining him to produce such films under Brooksfilms' banner as the Academy Award®-nominated Frances and The Elephant Man, was invited to see the play on Broadway soon after it opened. He knew that the original movie had such a devoted cult following that many fans were reluctant to see it in another version.
"But to my immense surprise," recalls Sanger, "the musical was even better. So I told Mel that if it winds up becoming a movie again, I'd like to help him produce it. And one day Brooks called and said, 'Get your track shoes on, and let's talk about how we can do this on film.'"
Brooks and writing partner Meehan began working on a screenplay. While the structure of a movie is traditionally three acts, Broadway musicals are constructed in only two acts. Meehan explains that just as he and Brooks had taken Brooks' original three-act screenplay and fashioned it into a two-act Broadway musical, with the new film he and Brooks "had to take it all apart and reconstruct it all over again."
Meehan shares, "The big end of Act One is the 'little old lady land' with all those ladies in their walkers…and the big rousing dance number. Now that number is in the middle of the picture ["Along Came Bialy"]. We don't come to a big orgasmic finish to send the curtains down, because the show is still rolling."
Meehan feels that expanding the production to the big screen gives the production a previously unexplored breadth. "When you take it off the stage and put it in movies, you can do a lot more things in terms of places. This movie doesn't just take place in offices and in the theaters, it takes place out in Central Park and on Fifth Avenue in New York. It gives it more room to breathe."
For the film, Brooks wrote two original songs that were not in the Broadway play: "You'll Find Your Happiness in Rio," which is briefly heard as background music during the brief glimpses of Leo and Ulla frolicking together in paradise as Max sits in his jail cell; and "There's Nothing Like a Show on Broadway," performed by Broderick and Lane and heard over the end credits, with the actors still very much in their characters of Leo and Max--the former, full of unabashed excitement and joy at his newfound career in show business, and the latter, hilariously acidic and world-weary after having to weather decades of the theater's ups and downs.
"We're a Broadway story! It would have been heartbreaking not to shoot this movie in
New York." Mel Brooks
Along with wanting to retain as much of the original Broadway cast and crew as possible, the filmmakers were adamant about one other thing: the new movie, just as the original 1968 film, would have to be filmed in New York.
It may only be a coincidence, but the first movie musical to film on location in New York City was 1949's On the Town, with its opening scenes at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. So perhaps it was fitting that The Producers, set in 1959, would film at the Steiner Studios, a new, state-of-the-art facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In fact, The Producers has the distinction of being the first feature film to shoot in the impressive 100,000-square-foot facility. Taking a page from the old MGM musicals, they constructed sets on four of the five stages--including a '50s version of Broadway's historic Forth-fourth Street and Shubert Alley--on an enormous 27,000 square-foot-space with ceilings that are 45 feet high.
"We're a Broadway story!" exclaims Brooks. "It would have been heartbreaking not to shoot this movie in New York. And here we are in Brooklyn, only eleven and a half blocks away from where I was born and bred. Mostly bred. We were so poor the neighbors had to give birth to me," he jests.
"To get this movie right, it had to be made by New Yorkers," suggests production designer Mark Friedberg. "As much as I designed what you see on our Shubert Alley set, there are hundreds and hundreds of hands in the making of it, and every stroke of paint or layer of dust meant significant decisions made by people who are living here in New York."
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of filming in New York was the proximity to Broadway's most talented singers and dancers. More than 3,700 dancers auditioned for approximately 350 coveted roles in spectacular production numbers including "Springtime for Hitler," "Prisoners of Love" and "I Wanna Be A Producer."
"To have these singers and dancers from Broadway who are so professional, devoted and committed has been a joy," says Stroman.
William Ivey Long, a Tony-winning costume designer who has been a frequent collaborator of Stroman's jokes, "Every single person that Susan Stroman has ever worked with, and I think she was born on the half-shell from Zeus's imagination, is in this movie. You can walk down our 44th Street set any day and you'll see the best of the best of Broadway here." Read more, continued
READ MORE ABOUT NATHAN LANE, MATTHEW BRODERICK, UMA THURMAN & WILL FERRELLL
SOUNDTRACK TO THE PRODUCERS
SUSAN STROMAN (Director, Choreography by)
MEL BROOKS (Produced by, Screenplay by, Music and Lyrics by)
THOMAS MEEHAN (Screenplay by)