The smell of grease paint has never really appealed to me and, outside of the fine raft of 1990's animated musicals, the genre generally leaves me cold. Big screen my experiences have been variable; Moulin Rouge was dazzling, but made me nauseous, Chicago passed me by and The Phantom of the Opera is 49 hours of my life I'll never get back (well, it felt like 49 hours). However, with Mel Brooks' pedigree and an hysterical trailer, The Producers did pique my curiosity and if the finished product's comedy level doesn't live up to its billing, it's certainly not from lack of trying. Despite its subject matter, The Producers is a very traditional movie musical, recalling the kind of stagey MGM spectaculars of over fifty years ago. Fresh from appearing in the Broadway version, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are Bialystock and Bloom, the faded producer and seduced accountant determined to get rich by producing massive flop, Springtime for Hitler.
The original movie starring Gene Wilder and, musically, only featured Springtime for Hitler, but Brooks always wanted to turn it into a fully fledged musical, which he did to arm loads of Tonys, thus a remake in its new guise was inevitable. Naturally, the first few songs set the scene and introduce the characters, particular highlights being I Wanna be a Producer and Keep it Gay, the latter in an attempt to woo a director who will camp up Hitler. Despite his evidently limited technical facility as a musician, Brooks is a surprisingly fine tunesmith, aided with fine arrangements by Glen Kelly, Doug Besterman and Larry Blank. Of course, his lyric skills are even finer. True, few of the songs are laugh out loud funny on their own (several, notably Along Came Bialy, have more impact when seen with the picture) and are often played surprisingly straight, but all are wittily crafted.
The show's centrepiece is, of course, Springtime for Hitler and features probably the single best tune, belted out in fine style by John Barrowman, and some of the most hilarious lyrics, 'look out Europe, we're going on tour.' Not an ideal song to sing to oneself in public. After reaching such a comic high point, the fallout from Springtime for Hitler's success feels a bit protracted, although Betrayed is a terrific tour de force by Nathan Lane as he brilliantly recounts the entire plot from his prison cell after being sent down for cooking the books. The final three tracks are bonuses of sorts. The Hop-Clop Goes On is a surreal German spoof of My Heart Will Go On (a future Eurovision winning entry, if ever I heard one) while The King of Broadway was cut from the film, presumably for pacing reasons as the song itself is a terrific way to end.
Naturally, Lane and Broderick perform their Broadway roles effortlessly, although the newcomers are equally fine. I'd never have imagined Uma Thurman as a natural comic actress, but her turn as Ulla is a match for her stars and, in When You Got It, Flaunt It, proves to have a surprisingly good singing voice. Will Ferrell turns in an hilarious performance as the Neo Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind and performs his ridiculous parody numbers with just the right amount of straight faced silliness. Those after underscore will be sorely disappointed as there is none, indeed little appears in the film outside of song intros. However, a smart, funny and irreverent musical with enough good tunes to be easily recommendable.