The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Art (and Commerce) of Adapting Plays to the Screen

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Image The Producers (2005) – I bring up this movie because this project both started, and (perhaps) finished, two separate phenomena.

As you may or may not know, Mel Brooks adapted his 1968 movie into a full-scale Broadway musical. This play was and is a HUGE hit, and it to this day has won more Tony awards than any other show in history. Two things have occurred as a result of this:

  1. Broadway has become littered with musical adaptations of movies (Footloose, Saturday Night Fever, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, High Fidelity, and Legally Blonde, to name but a few), with varying degrees of quality and success.
  2. The release of this film, which if you’re keeping score, is the film adaptation of the stage adaptation of the film.

THIS The Producers was a huge flop. This probably came as a huge surprise to the filmmakers, given that the source material (both of them!) were enormously successful, but I think this falls squarely into the “Recipe for Disaster” camp. The original film, wildly different and irreverent when it first came out, does seem dated (and in parts, offensive) today. However, since the film’s subject matter deals with staging a terrible Broadway musical to ensure its failure, only to see it become a comedy smash, it was actually a natural choice to bring it to the stage. The more elaborate and gaudy the numbers become, the more ironically funny the overall show becomes. The audience member feels entertained by the show, and at least a little smart for “getting” it at the same time.

The problem comes when you try to capture that feeling onto film. I just don’t know if you can. In this case, they were trying to make a film of a play that depicts putting on a play. It’s too many layers, and there’s no way to do it justice. Theater lovers will feel as though the intimacy and immediacy of the stage show is missing, while film goers will feel that the movie is awkward and incomplete; the difference between filming a play, and actually adapting it.

A lot of terrific and inspired work went into The Producers, both as a movie and then a musical. It’s only ironic that they finally created what Bialystock and Bloom so desperately crave, a total dud.


Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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