I had to have been in middle school when my dad first told me about the classic Mel Brooks comedy The Producers (1968). We rented it and watched it together, and ever since then, it has been one of my favorite movies of all time. Who can forget the first time they entertained the concept of springtime for Hitler? My dad had to explain to me some of the cultural cues of the late '60s that I was missing for all of the humor to stick, but otherwise, I had a blast. By high school, all of my close friends had seen it too, and we used to get a kick out of breaking pregnant silences with a hearty singalong of, "Germany was having trouble, what a sad sad story..."
In 2001, when we heard that Mel Brooks was adapting his movie into a stage musical, I was mostly excited. Though to be honest, I wasn't sure why the entirety of The Producers had to be turned into a musical, when the songs in Springtime for Hitler stand on their own. I ended up seeing the musical version when it came to the Pantages in Hollywood starring Jason Alexander and Martin Short. It was funny and entertaining, sure. But I was pretty underwhelmed, I guess. Then, in 2005, I made the unfortunate decision to watch the movie adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of the original movie, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick who brought Zero Mostel's and Gene Wilder's roles to the stage in the first place. Oy. I understand that Mel Brooks was making mad dolla off of this morphing franchise, but really - a lot of the magic of the dialogue and the original genius actors was lost with the pointless new songs.
Now, hairstory (oh, I know I slay you) is repeating itself. In 2002, someone got the bright idea to turn John Waters' 1988 film Hairspray into a Broadway musical. About this, I can't say much. I have never seen the musical nor listened to the soundtrack, but I do know that it has been very well-received by audiences. I would tend to think that the source material is much more appropriate for the stage than The Producers was, because of Waters' fine skill with camp. Also, the whole thing is about music and dancing, not just a few scenes. Now, Adam Shankman, who brought us such comedy hits as A Walk to Remember and The Pacifier, as well as such artful masterpieces as Bringing Down the House and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, will be at the helm of the movie adaptation of the stage adaptation of the original.*
For some reason, I have a lot more confidence that the new version of Hairspray will be a lot better than the new version of The Producers even though I have not seen the musical, and it involves the most hideous looking version of John Travolta this side of treating his son's medical conditions by giving him a stress test. Certainly, I will miss Divine, Ricki Lake, and Jerry Stiller, but I think that at least Travolta and Queen Latifah have proven their experience in musicals, Christopher Walken is a great dancer (see bottom of post, beneath trailer, for proof), and Shankman is a dancer/choreographer. I'm curious if the original film's racial issues have been altered in any way for the new movie, though I would be surprised if they were, considering that even in '88 it was a period piece. But they changed the character of LSD from a hippie to a homosexual in The Producers, so you never know.
I'd be interested to know if any of my readers have seen the Hairspray musical, or can give any other insight, as I know very little about the details. Any thoughts on whether or not Hollywood may want to adapt Pink Flamingos for a younger audience?
(Spike Jonze is the shit.)
*Really, I can't hate on Shankman for directing really cheezy movies like Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Hell, The Pacifier was even kind of fun (maybe because I watched it with Czech subtitles in an empty theater in Prague, wondering what I was doing with my life?). As an aspiring screenwriter, I know that the key to success is most likely selling out as early as possible. How many times have I said, "If making it big means I have to crap out a few Scary Movie 8s starring DMX and Steven Seagal, then so be it." I'm personally hoping that Shankman's dance experience will shine, as I would love to see movie musicals really have a strong presence for modern audiences.
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