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HOLIDAY SNEAKS | The Producers

Why a movie? 'It's there forever,' Brooks says

November 06, 2005|Patrick Goldstein

WHEN you're on the set of "The Producers," you hear all sorts of fancy theories about why Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane went back before the cameras to reprise their Broadway roles as Bloom and Bialystock, the high-strung theatrical impresarios who have the world's most unlikely comedy hit with "Springtime for Hitler."

But just ask Mel Brooks and he'll provide the real explanation:

"The only real reason to make this movie is to have forever the performances of four of our original geniuses from the musical: Matthew, Nathan, Roger Bart [who plays Carmen Ghia] and Gary Beach [who plays Roger De Bris]. Their performances were remarkable, but in the theater, once the show is over, it's gone. If you make a movie, it's there forever."

Brooks is clearly the godfather of "The Producers," having created the Broadway hit decades after writing and directing the original 1968 film. But even though he's often on the set, kibitzing, fussing about the budget and giving autographs ("I'm signing this," he told one fan, "as long as you promise me it's not a check"), he defers to Susan Stroman, who makes her film directing debut after directing and choreographing the Broadway musical.

"I didn't have to campaign," Stroman said. "One day Mel told me, 'We're going to do a movie, and you're directing it,' and that was it. He's been incredibly supportive. Of course, if I have a question about comedy, I'll think, 'Well, there's the genius. Why don't I ask him?' "

The original stars have been joined by Uma Thurman, who plays Ulla, the sexy Swedish secretary, and Will Ferrell, who takes on the part of neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. For the stage veterans, the biggest adjustment is doing their numbers without the noisy approval of a live audience.

"It's a surprisingly different experience," Broderick said. "Onstage, you tell the jokes and get that wonderful big laugh. Here, you tell the same jokes and get complete silence. We've been used to a lot of reassurance from the crowd. Still, it's been great. Susan is a real maternal force. And with Mel, let's just say that I know that when he makes jokes, he's only using 10%. He could really kill you if he wanted to."

On the set, Broderick is the perfect gentleman, Lane the glorious diva. "We all get along, just in different ways," Stroman said. "Matthew is quiet. Nathan is loud but very collaborative. He blames me for his bad knee and his slipped disk, but he seems to enjoy the whole idea of blaming me. Matthew is a phenomenal singer, like an Irish tenor. And when you watch Nathan dance, he's a man filled with joy. With this film, the comedy will always reign supreme, but we're trying to capture that old head-to-toe movie musical feel too."

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