Roger Bart, Will Ferrell, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach, and Nathan Lanein The Producers(© 2005 Universal Studios)
Roger Bart, Will Ferrell, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach, and Nathan Lane
in The Producers
(© 2005 Universal Studios)
The soundtrack album of The Producers has spurred me to be first in line to see the film. Oh, this has nothing to do with the quality of the score. Since Day One, when everyone else was hyperventilating over it, I've felt that Mel Brooks's work is second-rate and was appalled that it received a Tony. The absolute nadir of the show is "I Wanna Be a Producer," which may the song with the most clichés ever: lunch at Sardi's every day, sleep until half-past two, see my name i lights, a great big casting couch, and so on. I swear, if any applicant to the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop showed up for his interview with those lines, the instructors would kick him down the stairs and collectively yell, "And STAY out! " (Actually, there may be another movie musical song that's even more clichéd; that's the new song written expressly for the Producers film, which begins "There's nothing like a show on Broadway" and is followed by "there's nothing like a Broadway show." What wit )

So, why then has the soundtrack inspired me to rush to the film on opening day? The booklet that comes with the CD is responsible. It includes a picture of Bialystock, Bloom, and others on the opening night of Springtime for Hitler, standing in front of three-sheets advertising The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and even Destry Rides Again. For the action of The Producers, you'll remember, takes place in 1959. (West Side Story closed before The Sound of Music opened, but I'll cut them some slack; after all, remnants from a three-sheet of No Strings, which closed in 1963, could be seen at the 33rd Street PATH station well into the '90s.)

Maybe The Producers has images of three-sheets for other musicals of that year: Redhead, Juno, First Impressions, The Nervous Set, The Billy Barnes Revue, Happy Town, The Girls Against the Boys, Take Me Along, Once Upon a Mattress, Saratoga, and Fiorello Some of these are mighty obscure, but you'd be surprised what shows up in movies.

Take a look at the scene in Sunday in New York where Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor meet on a bus. Above their heads are ads for The Fantasticks and The Premise, two then-current Off-Broadway shows. In Who Killed Teddy Bear, a 1965 film, you can see the 54th Street Theatre, where What Makes Sammy Run? is playing. (This was no accident; Joseph Cates, the film's producer, produced the musical also.) That same year, How to Murder Your Wife showed a construction site where the plywood boasted a window car for Any Wednesday and three-sheets for High Spirits and Hello, Dolly! Better still, during the film's opening sequence, there's a long look at the now sadly razed Ziegfeld Theatre. (Alas, nothing is playing there. Few shows ever did.)

Stagestruck, a 1958 film about a young theatrical hopeful named Eva (not Linda) Lovelace, really stinks -- but the opening scene is heaven. Eva walks down 45th Street and scans the marquees of the Imperial (The Most Happy Fella), the Martin Beck (Major Barbara), the Music Box (Separate Tables), and the Plymouth (The Apple Cart). Nine years later, Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas), the title character of the TV series That Girl, traversed the same street and we could see the marquees of the Plymouth (The Star-Spangled Girl), the Royale (Cactus Flower), the Imperial (Cabaret) -- and, one street over, the old Helen Hayes (Philadelphia, Here I Come!).

The film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys -- the first one, the good one -- allowed us to see the marquee of Goodtime Charley at the Palace. And, speaking of good films with inferior remakes: The Manchurian Candidate has Frank Sinatra rush out of Jilly's, a 52nd Street boite that he often frequented, and behind him is the Alvin (now the Neil Simon) marquee touting New Faces of 1962. (This suggests that the scene was filmed in late January or any day in February 1962, when the 28-performance flop played there.) As the camera pans across the street, only those who own the DVD of the film will be able to spot the marquee for A Man for All Seasons on the theater then known as the ANTA.

A most obscure image comes in The Graduate. After Benjamin humiliates Elaine in the strip bar, she runs out and stops in front of a three-sheet of Mouche, the French-language production of Carnival. I only recognized it because I'd read in The Best Plays of 1966-67 that Mouche had been produced in Paris, and when I saw that word on the big screen of the (here's a coincidence) Paris Theater in Boston, I looked closer and noticed the names of book writer Michael Stewart and composer-lyricist Bob Merrill. I can't see them on my taped-from-televisoin copy of The Graduate, but perhaps the DVD and a high-definition TV could rectify that.

Have you spotted any cast albums in films? In Never Too Late, the 1965 movie version of the 1962 Broadway comedy smash, a scene takes place in front of a record store. Prominently displayed in the window are the My Fair Lady soundtrack and the original cast album of The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd. That tells you a lot about those times, when cast albums were prominently displayed because they were assumed to lure people into the stores. Today, if you go into a record score and ask where the Broadway cast albums are located, you'll be shunted to the back of the store, an upper floor, or the basement.

So, what did I forget -- or what am I unaware of? I hope that you'll write in with your own citations.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]