The Producers (musical)
by Mel Brooks
|Productions||2001 Broadway |
2002 US Tour
2003 Second US Tour
2004 West End
2007 UK Tour
2015 UK and Ireland tour
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Musical |
Tony Award for Best Book
Tony Award for Best Score
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical
Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album
Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical
The Producers is a musical with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, and a book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. It is adapted from Brooks's 1967 film of the same name. The story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by fraudulently overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show draws on ridiculous accents, caricatures of gay people and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes.
After 33 previews, the original Broadway production opened at the St. James Theatre on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, including for Best Musical. It spawned a successful West End production running for just over two years, national tours in the US and UK, many productions worldwide and a 2005 film version.
David Geffen persuaded Mel Brooks to turn his film into a stage musical. When Brooks met with Jerry Herman to discuss their working together, Herman declined, telling Brooks that he should do the job himself, as he was a good songwriter. Brooks then asked Thomas Meehan to join him in writing the book for the stage. Brooks persuaded Mike Ockrent and his wife Susan Stroman to join the creative team as director and choreographer. After Ockrent's death in 1999, Stroman agreed to continue as both director and choreographer.
In New York in 1959, theatre producer Max Bialystock opens "Funny Boy", a musical version of Hamlet ("Opening Night"). It is terrible, and the show closes after one performance. Max, who was once called the King of Broadway, tells a crowd of down-and-outs of his past achievements and vows to return to form ("King of Broadway").
The next day, Leo Bloom, a mousy accountant, comes to Max's office to audit his books. When one of Max's little old lady "investors" arrives, Max tells Leo to wait in the bathroom until she leaves. She plays a sex game with Max, who eventually persuades her to give him a check to be invested in his next play, to be called "Cash". Leo reveals his lifelong dream: he's always wanted to be a Broadway producer. After a panic attack when Max touches his blue blanket, Leo tells Max that he has found an accounting error in his books: Max raised $100,000 for "Funny Boy", but the play only cost $98,000. Max begs Leo to cook the books to hide the discrepancy. Leo reluctantly agrees. After some calculations, he realizes that "under the right circumstances, a producer could actually make more money with a flop than he can with a hit. ... You could've raised a million dollars, put on your $100,000 flop, and kept the rest!" Max proposes a scheme:
Step 1: We find the worst play ever written.
Step 2: We hire the worst director in town.
Step 3: We raise two million dollars. ... One for me, one for you. There's a lot of little old ladies out there!
Step 4: We hire the worst actors in New York and open on Broadway and before you can say
Step 5: We close on Broadway, take our two million, and go to Rio.
However, Leo refuses to help Max with his scheme ("We Can Do It"). When he arrives at work six minutes late, Leo's horrid boss, Mr. Marks, reminds him that he is a nobody. While he and his miserable co-workers toil over accounts, Leo daydreams of becoming a Broadway producer ("I Wanna Be a Producer"). He realizes that his job is terrible, quits, and returns to Max ("We Can Do It" (reprise)). The next day, they look for the worst play ever written. Max finds a sure-fire flop that would offend people of all races, creeds and religions: Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind, which Max describes as "a love letter to Hitler". They go to the playwright's home in Greenwich Village to get the rights to the play. Franz is on the roof of his tenement with his pigeons reminiscing about the grand old days ("In Old Bavaria"). The producers get him to sign their contract by joining him in singing Adolf Hitler's favorite tune ("Der Guten Tag Hop Clop") and reciting the Siegfried Oath, under penalty of death, promising never to dishonor "the spirit and the memory of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler".
Next, they go to the townhouse of the flamboyant and gay Roger De Bris, the worst director in New York. At first, Roger and his "common law-assistant" Carmen Ghia decline the offer to direct because of the serious subject matter ("Keep It Gay"). After much persuading and invoking the possibility of a Tony Award, Roger agrees and tells them the second act must be rewritten so the Germans win World War II. Max and Leo return to the office to meet a Swedish bombshell who wants to audition for their next play: Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson. She auditions for them ("When You've Got It, Flaunt It"). The producers are impressed, mostly by her sex-appeal, and hire her to be their "secretary-slash-receptionist". Max leaves to raise two million dollars for "Springtime for Hitler" by calling on all the little old ladies in New York ("Along Came Bialy"), which he does ("Act I Finale").
Leo and Ulla are left alone in Max's office (redecorated by Ulla), and they start to fall in love ("That Face"). Max walks in and sees the tempting form of Ulla's covered behind ("That Face" (reprise)).
At the auditions for the title role, Hitler, one terrible actor after another is rejected by Roger in summary fashion. Finally, Franz performs his own jazzy rendition of "Haben Sie Gehört Das Deutsche Band?", at the end of which Max stands up and shouts, "That's our Hitler!" Opening night arrives ("It's Bad Luck to Say 'Good Luck' on Opening Night"), and Franz falls down the stairs and breaks his leg. Roger is the only one who knows the part of Hitler, and he rushes to the dressing room to get ready. The curtain rises, and Max and Leo watch the theatrical disaster unfold ("Springtime for Hitler"). Unfortunately, Roger's performance is so camp and outrageous, the audience mistakes it for satire, and the show becomes a surprise smash. Back at the office, Max and Leo are near-suicidal ("Where Did We Go Right?"). Roger and Carmen come to congratulate them, only to find them fighting over the accounting books. Franz bursts in, waving a pistol, outraged by Roger's portrayal of his beloved Führer. Max suggests that he shoot the actors (not the producers) as a way to close the show. The police hear the commotion and arrest Franz, who breaks his other leg while trying to escape. They also arrest Max and take the books. Leo hides; Ulla finds him and persuades him to take the two million dollars and run off to Rio with her.
In jail awaiting trial, Max receives a postcard from Leo and, feeling betrayed, recounts the whole show ("Betrayed"). At his trial, Max is found "incredibly guilty"; but the now-married Leo and Ulla arrive to tell the judge that Max is a good man who has never hurt anyone despite his swindling ("'Till Him"). The judge is touched by this and decides not to separate the partners, sending both (plus Franz) to Sing Sing prison for five years. In prison, they write a new musical entitled Prisoners of Love, which goes to Broadway ("Prisoners of Love") (starring Roger and Ulla), and they are pardoned by the Governor. Leo and Max become the kings of Broadway and walk off into the sunset ("Leo & Max"). Everyone comes back for one last song, telling the audience that they have to leave ("Goodbye").
|Character||Original Broadway Cast
|First US Tour
|Second US Tour
|Original West End
|Max Bialystock||Nathan Lane||Lewis J. Stadlen||Brad Oscar||Nathan Lane||Cory English|
|Leopold "Leo" Bloom||Matthew Broderick||Don Stephenson||Andy Taylor||Lee Evans||John Gordon Sinclair||Jason Manford|
|Roger De Bris||Gary Beach||Lee Roy Reams||Conleth Hill||Peter Kay||David Bedella|
|Carmen Ghia||Roger Bart||Jeff Hyslop||Rich Affannato||James Dreyfus||Robert Sebastian||Louie Spence|
|Ulla Bloom||Cady Huffman||Angie Schworer||Ida Leigh Curtis||Leigh Zimmerman||Rebecca Romijn||Tiffany Graves|
|Franz Liebkind||Brad Oscar||Fred Applegate||Bill Nolte||Nicolas Colicos||Alex Giannini||Phill Jupitus|
Notable Broadway replacements
- Max: Henry Goodman, Tony Danza, John Treacy Egan, Richard Kind, Brad Oscar, Lewis J. Stadlen
- Leo: Don Stephenson, Roger Bart, Hunter Foster, Steven Weber, Alan Ruck
- Roger: Jonathan Freeman
Chicago tryout and Broadway (2001–2007)
The production opened at the St. James Theatre on April 19, 2001 with the same cast. The production ran for 2,502 performances, closing on April 22, 2007. The director and choreographer was Susan Stroman. The show originally starred Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock (who reprised that role during the show's first few months on London's West End) and Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. Glen Kelly was the musical arranger and supervisor. The production won 12 Tony Awards, breaking the record held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly! which had won 10.
After the opening, The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office ticket sales in theatre history, taking in more than $3 million. The loss of the original stars had a detrimental effect on the success of the production, prompting the return of Lane and Broderick for a limited run from December 2003 to April 2004. The show's sales then broke its own record with over $3.5 million in single day ticket sales.
US Tours (2002–2005)
From September 2002 to July 2005, there were two touring companies that played 74 cities across the United States, grossing over $214 million. The first touring company starred Lewis J. Stadlen and Don Stephenson. They were replaced during the Los Angeles engagement in 2003 by Jason Alexander and Martin Short for the duration of the show's run in that city, as well as in San Francisco. Michael Kostroff, who had several supporting roles in that production and understudied Max, published a 2005 memoir of his touring experience, Letters from Backstage.
A second national tour opened in mid-2003 at the Colonial Theatre in Boston starring Brad Oscar as Max and Andy Taylor as Leo. The cast also featured Lee Roy Reams as Roger and Bill Nolte as Franz. This company toured the US for two years before playing in Tokyo, Japan.
West End (2004–2007)
The Producers opened in London's West End at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on November 9, 2004 and closed on January 6, 2007, after 920 performances. The production featured Nathan Lane as Max, after Richard Dreyfuss was "let go" by the producers after finding that he was unable "to fulfil the rigours of the role", with four days to go before first previews. Lee Evans played Leo (Lane and Evans had worked together in the 1997 movie MouseHunt), with Leigh Zimmerman as Ulla, Nicolas Colicos as Franz Liebkind, Conleth Hill as Roger De Bris, and James Dreyfus as Carmen Ghia.
The show enjoyed excellent box office success as it had in New York. Despite the departure of Lane from the show, it continued to enjoy strong sales. Max Bialystock was then played by Brad Oscar, Fred Applegate, and Cory English. Leo Bloom was later played by John Gordon Sinclair and Reece Shearsmith.
UK tour (2007–2008)
A United Kingdom tour opened in Manchester on February 19, 2007, where it played for three months before moving on. English and Sinclair reprised their roles of Max and Leo, respectively, and Peter Kay was cast in the role of Roger. For the majority of the tour, which ran until early 2008, Joe Pasquale took over the role of Leo and Russ Abbot played Roger.
A Los Angeles, California, production opened ran from May 2003 to January 2004 at the Pantages Theatre. Co-starring were Jason Alexander as Max Bialystock and Martin Short as Leo Bloom. The Las Vegas, Nevada production ran for a year in 2007 to 2008 at the Paris Hotel & Casino. It starred Brad Oscar as Bialystock, Larry Raben as Bloom and Leigh Zimmerman as Ulla, with David Hasselhoff receiving top billing as Roger De Bris. Once Hasselhoff left the production, top-billing went to Tony Danza, who stepped in as Bialystock. The production was a 90-minute version. In 2007, the first U.S. regional theater production played in Lincolnshire, Illinois at the Marriott Theatre from September to November 2007 and starred Ross Lehman as Bialystock and Guy Adkins as Bloom.
In 2009, the show played at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at the Diablo Light Opera Company in California, starring Ginny Wehrmeister as Ulla, Ryan Drummond as Leo, and Marcus Klinger as Max. This production received the 2009 Shellie Award for Best Production. Oscar and Roger Bart reprised their roles as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, in a production at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri in August 2010.
A production at the Hollywood Bowl with Richard Kind, Roger Bart, and Gary Beach reprising their roles as Max, Carmen Ghia, and Roger DeBris from the original Broadway production ran July 27–29, 2012. The cast also starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Leo and featured Dane Cook as Franz and Rebecca Romijn as Ulla.
A UK and Ireland tour began at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on March 6, 2015, starring Cory English as Max, Jason Manford as Leo, Phill Jupitus (until May 16) and Ross Noble (from May 18 onwards) as Franz Liebkind, David Bedella as Roger De Bris and Louie Spence as Carmen Ghia (until May 2). The tour continued until July 2015 in Dublin.
The Producers has been presented professionally in many cities around the world, including Toronto, Berlin, Breda, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, Christchurch, Tel Aviv, Seoul, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Copenhagen, Milan, Budapest, Madrid, Halifax, Mexico City, Prague, Stockholm, Panama, Bratislava, Vienna, Helsinki, Athens, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Caracas, Lisbon, Gothenburg, Oslo, Oradea, Varde, Moscow, Ghent, Manila, and Belgrade.
In 2005, the musical was adapted into a musical film. It was directed by Stroman and starred most of the original Broadway cast, except for Brad Oscar – who was unable to reprise the role of Franz because he had signed on to play Max on Broadway and, instead, had a brief cameo as the cab driver – and Cady Huffman. Their roles were played by Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, respectively. The songs "King of Broadway", "In Old Bavaria", and "Where Did We Go Right?" were not in the theatrical cut of the movie; "King of Broadway" appears on the DVD as a deleted scene. It opened on December 16, 2005, and received mixed reviews.
On the television show Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Producers was featured in almost every episode of Season 4. Mel Brooks offers Larry David the part of Max, with Ben Stiller as Leo. When David and Stiller have a falling out, Stiller is replaced by David Schwimmer. When David forgets his lines, his ad-libs keep the audience laughing. It is revealed that Brooks cast David, believing he would fail, to end the show and "free" Brooks of its success. Brooks and his real-life wife, Anne Bancroft, laugh at how bad David is, but to their dismay David ends up being a hit.
Awards and nominations
At the 2001 Tony Awards, The Producers won 12 out of its 15 nominations, setting the record for most wins in history and becoming one of the few musicals to win in every category for which it was nominated – it received two nominations for leading actor and three for featured actor. Its record for most nominations was tied in 2009 by Billy Elliot the Musical and broken in 2016 when Hamilton received 16 nominations, but its record number of wins still stands, as of 2021. Hamilton is second, with 11 wins.
Original Broadway production
Original London production
|2005||Laurence Olivier Award||Best New Musical||Won|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Nathan Lane||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Leigh Zimmerman||Nominated|
|Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical||Conleth Hill||Won|
|Best Director||Susan Stroman||Nominated|
|Best Theatre Choreographer||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||William Ivey Long||Nominated|
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- Starlight Theater listing
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