The King of "The Producers"
And yes, there's more from that Chicago world premiere tryout of The Producers. I wasn't sure at first if I'd post this new clip, though. It's Nathan Lane singing "The King of Broadway," a number that he performed numerous times on TV shows to promote the musical when it was in New York. So, I figured that a reasonable number of people had seen it. Also, the video of the clip isn't great, partially blocked by someone in the audience, though you can see things fine enough.
But I decided to post it here for two reasons. One is that, rather than a guest spot on a talk show, it's a bit different seeing the number fully staged and with a large auditorium audience watching it in context of the show, and hearing their reaction. This comes very early in the show -- maybe five minutes in -- and other than a very short chorus number called "Opening Night" that lasts only about a minute, it's the first real song in the musical. Having just settled in, the audience's anticipation is at its peak, uncertain what the evening will be like. And as Nathan Lane sings this enthusiastic, wonderful number, it's what grabs everyone in the theater. The reaction was palpable, you could feel the atmosphere of the audience change, as the laughter and excitement grew.
The other reason is that it gives me a chance to vent.
As I've said, I liked the movie version of the show. But I didn't love it -- and I utterly adored the stage production. They made a lot of mistakes with the movie, and this song is the biggest. So big, in fact, that I personally feel it single-handledly sank the film. It's even in the pantheon of "worst mistakes in a Hollywood movie -- ever."
What was so wrong with the scene? Nothing. The scene is terrific. The mistake is...they cut it! If you never saw Lane on TV promoting the stage show and only saw the movie, you have never seen this absolutely wonderful song.
The thing is, the problem isn't that they cut a wonderful song. Those things have happened, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. The problem is that they cut an important song. Other than "Springtime for Hitler," it's the most important song in the show.
"The King of Broadway" is the first song in the musical. (I don't count that "Opening Night," which I think might even be shorter in the film, 45 seconds or so, it seems.) It's not just the first song, it's the song that defines Max Bialystock; that tells the audience who he is; it critically creates empathy for a character who is a self-centered, manipulative, lascivious con man; it tells the audience what he wants and wants desperately and why; and it does so in such an enthusiastic, joyous, and wildly funny way (at some points parodying other famous musicals, which in turn gives you a sense of the show to come) that it lets the audience know -- as I mentioned above -- that you're in for a great, vibrant time. Yet there's even another important reason, perhaps even more important that all that, believe it or not.
It's that without this song...there isn't song in the film for over 20 minutes!!! Without this song, for close to a half hour, a person can be watching this musical...and not know you're watching a musical! (Again, that brief, opening chorus doesn't count. If you see a song over the opening credits of some movie, you wouldn't inherently think it was a musical. This is close to that...and even shorter than an opening credits song.) Without this song, what you'd think for almost 25 minutes is that you're just watching a straight remake of the original The Producers that's good but not as good and wondering why on earth they made this and why you're there. They cut it. They freaking cut it.
And the thing is, it's not like they decided ahead of time that it didn't fit and didn't film it. No, they actually shot the scene and decided (for utterly inexplicable reasons) not to use it.
And they filmed it wonderfully. I know this because they included it on the DVD as a bonus. A couple friends of mine had seen the movie, sort of enjoyed it a bit, but weren't crazy about it. I rented the DVD and brought it to their home, and I showed them "The King of Broadway" number. Both of them went wild over it. They each said it was one of the best songs in the show, and it would have made a huge difference to them had they seen it in the film.
I said, "I know." But I didn't need their confirmation. I knew. But it was good to hear it anyway.
I don't have a clue why they cut it. Maybe at screenings it didn't test well. I find that hard to believe, but it's possible. (Keep in mind, as I said, when they were promoting the stage show, this was the song they did to promote it -- because it's a wonderful crowd-pleasing song) But if so, if for some unearthly reasons test audiences hated it, this is a time filmmakers should have ignored the tests -- that's because the song is needed. Needed for all the reasons above. If audiences didn't like it (which again, I seriously doubt), they'd have liked the movie less without it. Hey, maybe the results showed otherwise about that, too. But I doubt it, as well. Yet even if so, again, they should have ignored the tests. Sometimes you have to accept that you're a professional filmmaker and you know your craft and understand what's structurally essential.
It's like removing the set-up to a joke because tests show audiences weren't laughing during the set-up. So, you're left with only the punch line -- but no reason for the line to make sense.
But as I said, I don't remotely believe having this song in the show made the movie test badly, and why they cut it. What I suspect is that the movie was running longer than the studio wanted, and so the filmmakers were told they to make cuts.
There's even evidence supporting this thought. Another sequence in the film is the amazing production number, "Along Came Bialy," which not only ends the first act on stage (and gets the audience cheering as they go to the lobby at intermission), but it's the number they chose to present at the Tony Awards. It's a truly great number that builds and builds and becomes like a manic 4-ring circus with each ring overlapping on one another, reaching a crescendo that ultimately explodes. And then -- curtain. Yet in the movie...they cut away from it about three-quarters of the way through! The number just sort of abruptly ends and peters out without the huge build-up conclusion. That can only have been done (foolishly) for time.
So, I suspect that because of studio demands they had to cut, and cut a lot -- they cut "The King of Broadway." They probably felt it doesn't advance the plot, and as a character song, we learn about Max through the dialogue. What they ignored is that a) this sets up the audience's mood for the whole film, and b) without it, there's no song for over 20 minutes!!!!!!!
Just a mind-numbing, idiotic cut, that I think doomed the movie to being just okay. When you lose an audience early, it's hard to get them back. When you grab them early, though, they'll follow you a long time.
So, here's the song on stage. The video isn't great because of that distracting body, but as I said, you'll see most everything. And you'll see how the audience reacted when, at the start of the evening, they realized they were in for an amazing, hilarious and joy-filled night. Keep in mind, this was the world-premiere tryout. No one knew what they were in for. But during this song, they figured it out. During this song, the audiences realizes that this evening is going go be wonderful. Something that you can hear from the laughter during and cheers at the end.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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