By Ty Burr
December 21, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Stage

”Movies make a lot more money than Broadway makes,” admits Mel Brooks. ”But you don’t go into the business to make money. You go into the business to be loved, to get applause, to get laughs.” That’s easy for him to say: He’s getting all three (and $100 a seat) on a nightly basis. Though the most surprising thing about The Producers is how much it’s receiving of the first item on Mel’s list: the love.

The Susan Stroman-directed adaptation of Brooks’ 1968 cult film may be praised as the most paralyzingly funny musical to hit the Great White Way in years; it may be the focus of a historic ticket frenzy; it may have won 12 Tonys, and brought dancing grannies and a gay Hitler to Broadway. But The Producers is cherished because it is so unstoppably entertaining. And even more so after Sept. 11; as the engine that pulled audiences back to the theaters, Mel’s little show seemed downright…heroic. ”Audiences were just so relieved to have an escape from the news,” recalls Matthew Broderick. ”They were delighted to be in a theater.”

Or maybe audiences were just newly appreciating Nathan Lane (as Max Bialystock) and Broderick (as Leo Bloom), a.k.a. The Hardest-Working Men on Broadway. ”It’s the most taxing role I’ve ever played on stage,” says Lane. ”It demands something that’s not necessarily on the page — a kind of insanity and energy.” Whatever it takes, the response is worth it, especially as a third-act surprise in Brooks’ career. ”Live people, getting instant laughs, instant gratification — there’s no payment for your work like it,” says the 75-year-old comedy legend. He has no desire to return to filmmaking right now, and why should he? ”This is why the Greeks built amphitheaters instead of six-seat multiplexes,” he says. ”The Greeks knew that theater is a joyous, communal experience.”

A pause worthy of Max Bialystock himself. ”The one thing the Greeks didn’t have was Raisinets. How can you watch Medea without a box of Raisinets? It’s a tough play.”

  • Stage
  • Susan Stroman
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