Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ makes a splash at the Palace Theatre in Manchester
MANCHESTER – Watch out for little old ladies, as Mel Brooks’ comic farce “The Producers” comes to Manchester’s Palace Theatre through April 5.
In what he has described as the “Third Act” of his loony and illustrious career, Brooks, who began his career as a television writer on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” and later a film director, (“Blazing Saddles,” Young Frankenstein”), he’s reinvented himself as a theatrical songwriter and librettist, bringing to the stage “The Producers,” a musical version of his first movie.
For those outside the know, “The Producers,” is set in 1950s Broadway and concerns a Nazi musical replete with a dancing and singing Adolph Hitler that breaks all box office records.
“Of course,” said Brooks. “But it’s also funny isn’t it?”
The musical revolves around a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, who, for financial and technical reasons, want to produce a flop. He comes up with the idea of creating a musical about Hitler, produced by the lousiest director in the city, cast with the worst actors. He’s sure it will never work.
Getting back to offending folks … Brooks said you have to risk it.
“When I did ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ the war was not even cold. And the memory of concentration camps was still vivid for Jewish people. It was literally in bad taste. People like rabbis and would write to me and say, ‘This is execrable.’ And I’d say, ‘You can’t bring folks like Hitler down by getting on a soapbox – they’re better at it than we are. But if you can humiliate them, ridicule them, and have people laugh at them – you’ve won,’” Brooks said. “I knew ‘Springtime for Hitler’ was perfect, I knew it was right. I said to my friends, they may have to catch up with me. I may be a little ahead the curve at this point and have to wait for some of the world to catch up with me.”
And in the 1968 film, Brooks based Zero Mostel’s Bialystock on a real-life person that he knew.
“I did,” Brooks said. “I worked for that guy. He was a producer – he put on shows. For one show, I worked everything: I was the stage manager, I was the assistant producer, I was one of the actors. I put up advertising cards in barbershops for this producer. I can’t tell you his name because he has grandchildren and I don’t want them to know he fooled around with a lot of little of ladies.”
Brooks said there’s a line in the stage version of the show that actually comes from his real-life experience with this producer in the 1940s.
“It’s absolutely true,” he said. “I heard this guy say it. In the original movie, Zero Mostel says to a little old woman, ‘Make out the check to Cash.’ And she says, ‘Cash? That’s a funny name for a play.’ And he says, ‘Well, so is ‘The Iceman Cometh.’ That comes from real life.”
In this Manchester production of the show, the producers are portrayed by William Hartery, as Max, who is returning for his second run as Max in “The Producers” at the Palace. And starring as Leo Bloom is Brendan Malafronte, making his Palace Theatre debut.
Long before “The Producers” became a Broadway smash – it hauled in 12 Tonys, which is more than any other Broadway show in history – it was a very different film. The plot was the same as Max Bialystock, former King of Broadway, is advised by his weedy accountant, Leo Bloom, that a flop might be more profitable than a hit. So the pair attempt to stage a play so bad that it will close by “the fourth page.”
The film wasn’t a commercial success and lacked songs.
“Time just dismisses a commercial success,” Brooks said. “Though it would be nice if it made a lot of money.”
Brooks still can’t figure out why “The Producers” as a musical has been such an amazing success netting some $12 million a week when it opening in New York.
“I think it resonates with people’s sense of madcap fun,” Brooks said. “Maybe they all want to be in showbusiness. I don’t know. But a Broadway show is a much more profound and personal expression of a writer’s soul than a movie is. There’s no greater experience than being in a big theater, seeing your ideas portrayed on stage and having the audience whoop with delight. What could be better?”
The Palace Theatre is located at 80 Hanover St., Manchester. Call 668-5588 for tickets, which range from $15-$45.