This isn’t exactly the worst Broadway-to-film transfer of the 2000s, but it still might be that decade’s biggest disappointment. Unlike Rent, which probably wouldn’t have worked as a film no matter what was done with it, the stage version of The Producers had real screen potential. But Brooks made the fatal mistake of letting Susan Stroman direct, and after that, he was pretty much doomed.
Now, I’ll readily admit that Stroman is a brilliant stage director, but as Harold Prince proved with the disastrous film of A Little Night Music, being a great stage director does not make you a great, or even good, film director. There are a handful of people who have the talent for both (Bob Fosse, for instance), but Stroman is clearly not one of those people.
This is one of the stagiest film musicals in history: Stroman basically resorted to filming her stage production, an approach that has worked for some great musical films (like My Fair Lady and 1776), but emphatically does not work for a splashy musical comedy like The Producers.
The film just sits there, playing so awkwardly that it kills the show’s superbly-written humor, and the four leads retained from Broadway (including stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) give performances that sound sensational on the soundtrack album (which is actually superior to the Broadway cast album), but just look grotesque on film.
As for the two new leads, Will Farrell is his usual annoying self and Uma Thurman simply doesn’t have the vocal muscle necessary for Ulla. It says something that the only genuinely funny moment of the film came over the closing credits, a riotous ballad arrangement of “Guten Tag Hop-Clop” parodying award bait ballads such as “My Heart Will Go On”
The film was particularly unwise to close with a new song entitled “There’s Nothing Like a Show on Broadway”: the irony was staggering, given that this film was the quintessential example of the musical movie that is a pale imitation of its stage source. Many people today refuse to believe that the stage show was as glorious as it was purely because of this movie.