In the real estate world, the well-known motto is "Location, location, location," meaning where you buy a home or land is just as important as the home or land itself. In the rest of the world, the motto holds up, but mainly in regards to how one should act or behave in certain locales. For instance, if you're going to serenade your lady with a lovely guitar solo, you don't crank it up to 20,000 watts to sound like an arena rock concert. Likewise, if you're playing catch with your five-year-old boy, you don't throw a 90 mph fastball right at his face.
And when you're making a Hollywood adaptation of a Broadway musical, you adjust accordingly so that the trappings and some might say charm of the theater stage don't become overbearing and obnoxious on the big screen (or big screen TV). Sadly, that's exactly what occurs with the second movie version of "'The Producers."
A little back-story first. Back in 1968, the comically demented mind of Mel Brooks delivered an amusing and occasionally hilarious send-up of Broadway with his film about a theater producer (Zero Mostel), his accountant (Gene Wilder) and the musical ("Springtime For Hitler") they figured would be a surefire flop (thus allowing them to keep their investors' money). The film was a critical and even Oscar winning success (for Wilder in the best supporting actor role and to Brooks for his screenplay).
In 2001, Brooks transformed the movie into a Broadway musical with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the lead roles. It was even more successful, with both critics and theatergoer alike, winning a record-setting 12 Tony Awards (out of 14 nominations). Now it's come full circle, meaning it's a film musical based on a Broadway musical that was based on a film comedy about a Broadway musical. Got it? Good, let's proceed. With Lane & Broderick reprising their stage roles (along with Gary Beach & Roger Bart in their supporting ones), Brooks penning the screenplay with Thomas Meehan, and the Broadway show's Tony award-winning choreographer and director Susan Stroman behind the camera, things would seem to be perfectly set, yes?
Unfortunately, someone forget to tell the cast and crew that they were making a movie rather than just filming a Broadway production. And that's most obvious in the performances, including from Lane but especially regarding Broderick. Despite the contemporary presence of microphones to amplify one's voice throughout any sized theater, many Broadway performers still think they must project to the back row. Since that's often so far away that one needs binoculars to see the people on the stage, the performers often try to compensate and thus over-enunciate their dialogue and lyrics, while also over-exaggerating their facial expressions.
While that works on the stage (and is what some would consider part of the charm of seeing a Broadway show, particularly one like this that's already over the top in style), it's disastrous on film (where state of the art audio systems and screens the size of mansions make such performances overwhelming, particularly when they're seen in movie-style close-up) as well as any large screen home theater system.
And that's exactly what occurs here, leading to what amounts to a grating viewing experience, at least in the film's first half before things calm down a bit and Stroman pulls back on the camera so that we don't see the veins in Broderick's head pulsating as big as fire hoses. Viewing such footage from across the parking lot (in theaters) or across the neighborhood (at home) may have been okay, but up close and personal it's simply too much.
The other problem is that unlike Rob Marshall who re-imagined "Chicago" for the silver screen with a lot of creative flair, first-time helmer Stroman shoots most of her movie as if she's filming the production on the stage. Notwithstanding those extreme, in-your-face close-ups, and going back to that "location, location, location" issue, much of the film is shot on obvious soundstages when not actually done in front of what appear to be standard theatrical backdrops. That not only gives the film an unnecessary feeling of artifice and being hemmed in, but it also clashes with the moments when she actually gets out into the real world and shoots some footage there (such as in New York's Central Park).
I never had the fortune of catching the play on Broadway, but have heard from others that it was drop-dead funny. Perhaps the misguided direction and annoying performances put me off too much here, but I found most of the material as more amusing than outright hilarious. In old style Broadway musical fashion, there's plenty of innuendo, showgirls and such. And while the songs' lyrics by Brooks are decent, the actual musical composition of them is nothing special. In fact, the best number is "'Springtime for Hitler" that arrives courtesy of the original, non-musical film.
Once they get past the need to over-project, Lane and Broderick are fine in their roles, but they somewhat feel like they've done them so many times that the spark of making their characters magical is missing. More successful are Beach and Bart as a gay director and his common-law assistant, but I had mixed feelings about Will Ferrell as the Nazi playwright and Uma Thurman as the bodacious secretary with seemingly 6-foot gams. Ferrell can sing surprisingly well (not that the numbers he tackles out are too taxing, although they're lively), but he brings too many of his zany mannerisms to this role, while Thurman looks and acts the part, but didn't terribly impress me while belting out the tunes (although she's far awful).
I can't say I was ever bored, and the film does zip along rather well despite its unnecessarily long 130-plus minute runtime. Had the direction been more imaginative and the performances toned down a bit for the big screen, I might have liked this offering better.