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Mel Brooks comes to Broadway with 'The Producers'

Mel Brooks
The 1968 film version of "The Producers" won Mel Brooks an Oscar for his screenplay  

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High expectations

'A love letter to Broadway'

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(CNN) -- Mel Brooks made his name as a writer on "Your Show of Shows" and as director of "Blazing Saddles" (1974) and "Young Frankenstein" (1974). But anybody who's ever watched a Mel Brooks movie can tell what Brooks has really wanted to do is ... sing.

Brooks' movies, certainly, make no secret of his soft spot for the musical stage.

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Mel Brooks' film satirizing Broadway is now a stage production. CNN's Bill Tush reports

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Busby Berkeley, step aside. From the "Springtime for Hitler" number in "The Producers" (1968) to "The French Mistake" in "Blazing Saddles" to the title tune in "High Anxiety" (1977), his movies are full of all-stops-out song-and-dance numbers.

Now, Brooks has made it to the Great White Way. "The Producers," based on his film about two theatrical impresarios who attempt to bilk backers out of their investments by overselling a flop, opens Thursday in New York after a sellout run in Chicago.

Brooks, of course, keeps his tongue firmly in cheek about the show's prospects.

"We've already raised about $30 million from backers all over the country," he tells CNN's Bill Tush. "Now, it's going to cost us about $10 million to put the show on. If the show's a flop, we're going to take the other $20 million, put it in our pockets, and go to Rio. So we're praying for a flop."

High expectations

According to Steven Suskin's "Opening Night on Broadway," Brooks' idea for "The Producers" had its genesis in the 1962 Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical "All American," for which Brooks wrote the book. Despite high expectations -- Strouse and Adams were coming off the hugely successful "Bye Bye Birdie," and the show's star was the well-regarded Ray Bolger -- "All American" closed after just 80 performances. It was a tremendous failure for the time.

Brooks, Suskin wrote, wondered: What would happen if someone tried to produce an intentionally bad musical?

"The Producers" was the result. The film, now considered a classic, won Brooks an Oscar for his screenplay.

Still, it took him almost 40 years to get back to Broadway -- and he almost didn't. It took a fistful of calls from Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who wanted to produce, to convince him "The Producers" could be a Broadway musical.

'A love letter to Broadway'

Once Brooks agreed, things started falling into place.

First, he needed a composer. The renowned Jerry Herman had been slated to write the score, but -- as Brooks noted in an article in the April 15 New York Times -- Herman told Brooks he should write the songs himself. Brooks got a hand from friend Thomas Meehan, who co-wrote the book, and arranger Glen Kelly.

Tony Award-winning choreographer and director Susan Stroman signed on to helm the show, and two of the top musical theater actors in the country -- Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick -- jumped in to play Bialystock and Bloom.

"I wouldn't have done this show without Nathan Lane, because he's God's gift to Broadway," says Brooks. "And Matthew's a surprising find -- I didn't know he could sing and dance."

(Brooks must have missed Broderick's Tony-winning performance in the 1995 revival of "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.")

The advance reviews have been raves, and the show is reportedly sold out well into the summer.

In "The Producers," Bialystock and Bloom's ruse is found out when their hoped-for flop, "Springtime for Hitler," becomes a huge hit. The Broadway "Producers" also looks like a huge hit, but Brooks, fortunately, probably doesn't need to worry that he'll end up like his dishonest protagonists.

"It's always been a love letter to Broadway, and now its time has come," says Brooks.

'The Producers'
Roger Ebert: The Great Movies - 'The Producers'

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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