From Dec ’05 Spotlight: This year’s Hollywood Chanukah gelt is the new film version of Mel Brooks’s Broadway smash The Producers, a wild romp starring Nathan Lane as “Max Bialystock,” a faded impresario who convinces his accountant “Leo Bloom” (Mathew Broderick) to help him mount a new musical called Springtime for Hitler. I called screenwriter Thomas Meehan (the Tony award-winning creator of Annie and Hairspray) in Los Angeles to ask him about the challenges of taking Jewish material like The Producers from stage to screen while making it meaningful to worldwide audiences.
“As much as we like to have fun, there’s a seriousness underlying The Producers,” he said, “and the attack on Hitler, it’s very real. See, the one thing comedians can do is turn someone into a subject of ridicule. It’s the one way someone like Mel Brooks, a little Jewish boy from Brooklyn, can get back at Hitler. But there are some people, they don’t get it. Reaching even a broader audience, the movie may run into more people who don’t get it. But we never ask, ‘Is this going to offend anybody?’ We just go straight ahead. Mel’s theory is: If there is a bell there, you walk up and you ring it. You don’t go half way.”
So you’re dancing on Hitler’s grave? “Exactly. Right. ‘Universalizing’ anything didn’t come into play. Time constraints were the main thing: step up the pace, move it along from scene to scene, and of course, there’s no intermission. Also, we have a lengthy credit sequence at the end now, fun, really crazy. We added a new song, and our fantasy is that it could get nominated, and then Nathan and Matthew could sing it on the Academy Awards show. It’s great for us to have these big performances that were so praised on Broadway memorialized on film…. Anyway, I have to get in my car and go find Mel; we’re working on Young Frankenstein.”
The Producers opens in metro Chicago on Friday, Dec. 16. For more excerpts from my interview with Thomas Meehan visit: www.films42.com/chats/Thomas_Meehan.asp