This report was first broadcast on CBS News Sunday Morning May 13, 2001.
"The Producers" is the biggest hit show to hit Broadway since…well, it's hard to say since when.
Since "The Lion King," at least. Or maybe since "A Chorus Line." Or even since "Oklahoma!" knocked 'em dead at the very same St. James Theater back in 1943, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Anchor Charles Osgood.
It's been more than 30 years since Mel Brooks made "The Producers," the movie with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, about two lovably insane scoundrels (aka Broadway producers), who scheme to make millions with a musical so spectacularly tasteless that it's sure to close in one night.
But it's a hit, and they're ruined.
It's a story real-life producers seem to love. For years, they have been hounding Mel Brooks to make his movie into a musical.
Says Brooks, "David Geffen said, 'I've got a great idea. I just saw "The Producers" on television, and it's a musical.' I said, 'No, it's a good movie. Let's leave it alone.' But he said no. He was like a terrier. He grabbed the cuff of my trousers with his little terrier and chawed and chawed and wouldn't let go until I said, 'OK, OK! We'll make it a musical!'"
It's not your boy-meets-girl kind of play, although there's some of that. There are no cats or cute creatures; just a couple of crooks…uh, producers, played by Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, in search of a sure-fire flop.
Recalls Lane, "I was in the pool at the Ritz in Paris, and I saw these two heads. It was Ann Bancroft and Mel Brooks. And he said, in that wonderful way of his, 'I'm doing "The Producers" and I want you to be Max Bialystock!'"
Runaway success spelled jail for Bialystock and Bloom. But the real producers of "The Producers" don't seem to mind having the biggest hit in town on their hands, with a record 15 Tony award nominations, and people knocking down their doors to get tickets.
For "The Producers," real-life producers were falling all over each other to audition for the part.
"There are 85 producers in New York; 80 wanted this show. The other 5 must have been in Europe," says producer Rocco Landesman, who is one of the happiest guys in show business at the moment. "The Producers" actually has 13 producers, who are understandably giddy with success.
"We're confused," says Landesman. "We're dazed. We really don't know what to do. We know how to struggle, how to save a show. Right. We know all the tricks."
And what do producers do? Well, they raise money, for one thing—$10.5 million, in this case.
In the show, Max Bialystock raises funds by romancing little old ladies. Do the real-life producers use the same method?
Producer Steve Baruch jokingly says yes, adding, "I did have a call from an elderly woman, who I'm very fond of, actually, who...said, 'You know, I just saw "The Producers," and it seems to be there's something missing from our relationship.'"
These days, their biggest problems seem to be all those people, incuding backers, looking for more tickets than there are seats.
Says producer Landesman, "You can really tell the intensity of a demand for a show by how bizarre the ticket requests get for house seats."
On one occasion, Landesman was forced to choose between two such requests. His decision would have made Max Bialystock beam.
Says Landesman, "A woman friend of mine had a friend who was dying of cancer and wanted to see 'The Producers' before she died. The other was a woman in line, a very attractive woman in her 20s, who went up to the box office and said, 'I'll do anything for four orchestra seats.' And, of course, the cancer request, I rejected out of hand!"
Landesman's company owns the St. James Theater, and he has his office right upstairs. He has seen the show about 50 times and can wander around backstage just about whenever he wants.
And, of course, producers get to schmooze with the stars, like Cady Huffman, who plays Ulla, the producers' sexy secretary-slash-receptionist, and Roger Bart, who plays the gay director's "common law assistant," Carmen Gia.
Some of the gags in "The Producers" are so politically incorrect that it seems protesters should be walking with signs up and down Broadway. But nobody seems to mind at all.
Quips Landesman, "Well, it's fine, unless you're a Jew, or a German, or an old person, or a woman, or handicapped, or something like that."
Or an accountant, or in fact, a producer. The most politically correct thing you can say about "The Producers" is that it offers equal-opportunity insults. No one is spared.
How does Matthew Broderick feel about Leo Bloom, the character he plays?
"I associate with him," says the actor. "I'm not, hopefully, quite as neurotic as he is."
Interjects Landesman, "You're pretty neurotic."
Broderick replies, "I'm on the edge. It's easy for me to think that way."
It must be wonderful to be up there on stage and hear the pleasure he is giving to so many people.
"Yes," he says, adding, "It's hard to talk about it without sounding like an extremely…repulsive person."
Does the fact that producers are portrayed as, well, repulsive, dirty, double-crossing crooks bother Rocco Landesman? Doesn't seem to.
"Nathan has this line: 'I was a sleazy, slimy, good-for-nothing, lying, lowdown scumbag. I couldn't help myself. I was a Broadway producer!' And people look at me. What can I do? Wave! Yeah, that's me!"
In fact, all the producers seem pretty happy to have a bit of the limelight come their way. For the producers of "The Producers," it's the dream of a lifetime.
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