Did you ever buy tickets to a big stage musical and find that your seats were in the front row, where all you could see were the seams showing and the actors straining to project? That's the feeling I had watching first-time film director Susan Stroman try to transfer the magic she brought to The Producers (still running on Broadway) from stage to screen. Not happening. Nathan Lane repeats his Tony-winning role as Max Bialystock, a producer who raises money for his shows by sleeping with old ladies. And Matthew Broderick is back as Leo Bloom, the timid accountant who tells Max he can make a fortune by producing a guaranteed flop. But their comic spontaneity has evaporated. When they buy Springtime for Hitler from a Nazi playwright (Will Ferrell, way overdoing it) and hire a cross-dresser (Gary Beach, still a howl) to direct, the flop seems in the bag. You can't kill all the laughs, not from a script by Mel Brooks, but Stroman sells Brooks' songs with the subtlety of cannon fire. Only Uma Thurman, who plays Ulla, the sexy Swedish secretary, seems to know her way around a camera. She's a one-woman fireworks display singing "When You Got It, Flaunt It." What Stroman got, she flattens. She should have studied the original Producers that Brooks directed in 1968, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It answers the question "Where did they go right?"
From The Archives Issue 105: March 30, 1972