It’s re-make a rama at the multi-plex this week. Kong is still doing big business and two other retreads are joining it on theatre marquees. The Producers started life as a very funny film by Mel Brooks starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. Thirty years later a musical version of the story of the worst play ever mounted on the Great White Way helped revitalize the real-life Broadway. Unfortunately I don’t think the film version of The Producers will work the same magic in movie theatres and reverse the slump that theatres chains have been experiencing this year.
Fans of the stage version of The Producers will be pleased to have a faithful adaptation of the musical, starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and several of the original Broadway cast, but stage and film are two different mediums, a fact that seems to be lost on director Susan Stroman. As a choreographer Stroman has a shelf full of Tony awards and has worked at the very highest levels on Broadway. As a film director she is a great choreographer. Her film version of the play feels like she simply pointed a camera at the stage and yelled action. There is little effort made to open the film up and take it outside the proscenium arch. When the movie does stray from the box-like confines of the stage we get our best sequences—a chorus line of elderly women on walkers in Central Park and a lavish production number for Broderick’s “I Want to be a Producer” number.
Lane and Broderick bring considerable charm and energy to their roles, but it feels like they are playing to the back of the house rather than to a camera. Ironically, The Producers, a story so rooted in the tradition of Broadway, would have benefited from a more Hollywood treatment.