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Recording The Producers: A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks

In 1968, The Producers, Mel Brooks' hilarious and audacious movie starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, earned a Best Screenplay Oscar for Brooks, who was also making his feature directing debut. Its climactic musical opus, "Springtime for Hitler," remains one of the golden touchstones of cinematic comedy. In 2000, Brooks and director Susan Stroman retooled The Producers into the biggest Broadway hit in decades. This rowdy, nostalgic, and thoroughly un-PC farce earned a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, saw the first $100 tickets on Broadway, booked those tickets more than a year in advance, and made stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick the toasts of the Great White Way.

And it yielded a hit Broadway cast soundtrack CD. Recording The Producers: A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks is an engaging behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of that CD. Originally broadcast on PBS, Recording The Producers takes us into the recording session with Lane, Broderick, and their fellow cast members. Brooks himself stitches it all together by synopsizing the musical's plot from number to number and chatting about details of its inception, casting, and what it took to bring such a classic movie to the Broadway stage.

There's not much drama here — no temperamental stars using their egos like blunt weapons — but from top to bottom it's an enjoyable, exuberant, informal peek at great talents at work. The documentary's director, Emmy Award-winner Susan Froemke, knows what Broadway fans want to see — Lane and Broderick as themselves and behind the microphones as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, belting out "The King of Broadway" and "I Wanna Be a Producer." Plus, brassy and beautiful Cady Huffman brings the house down with "When You Got It, Flaunt It." Roger Bart and Gary Beach "keep it gay" as Roger De Bris and Carmen Giya. And of course there's "Springtime for Hitler" with that "hotsy-totsy Nazi," that "German Ethel Merman," Adolf Elizabeth Hitler, before a full orchestra and chorus.

On display are the live recordings of 14 of the soundtrack's 16 numbers — complete recordings, not just excerpts. Brooks is the happy-to-be-here studio host, paired with Lane, Broderick, and director Stroman in unscripted moments of background information and personal perspectives on the Producers phenomenon. Brooks is generous in his praise of his cast and crew, and the whole thing is a day in the life of one of showbiz's happiest collaborations. All that plus Broderick dishing out a funny impersonation of Marlon Brando, a party trick he picked up while shooting The Freshman.

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Sony Music's DVD also holds 13 minutes of bonus material not shown on PBS, featuring footage of a relaxed Brooks, Lane & Co. in solo interviews and gathered together backstage between sessions. The flawless full-frame (1.33:1) transfer comes from a pristine video source. One of this disc's best highlights is the audio, available in PCM stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound is as robust and pristine as can be. After all, we're watching everyone use the same state-of-the-art studio recording equipment that's delivering this very soundtrack. The dynamic range is terrific, all the way down to the string basses thrumming through the subwoofer.

A welcome add-on is the extensive photo gallery of scenes from the Broadway production, making this disc almost as good as being there. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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