Release date: Dec. 16U.S. distrib: Universal Oscar alumni: Mel Brooks (original screenplay, “The Producers“), Jonathan Sanger (producer, short, “Ray’s Male Heterosexual Dance Hall”) Musicals have a long and glorious Oscar history through all the genre’s ups and downs, going all the way back to picture winner “Broadway Melody of 1929” and continuing through top prize winners “An American in Paris” (1951); “Oliver!” (1968); and “Chicago” (2002), which helped spark a revival of the form. It’s not hard to imagine, then, that if the eagerly awaited screen adaptation of Mel Brooks’ wildly successful Tony winner is everything that test-screening numbers indicate, Oscar night could be tuneful indeed. (The property is already an Oscar winner for writer-producer-composer Brooks, who grabbed the 1968 original screenplay award for its initial incarnation.) Brooks’ directing debut, “Producers” is a felicitously manic tale of two improbably teamed hucksters (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) seeking a financial windfall by mounting a Broadway flop. (Wilder was nominated for supporting actor.) The multiple-Tony winner Nathan Lane is arguably the biggest musical comedy talent of our time, but it hasn’t been tested on the bigscreen yet. A knockout perf in line with his commanding exuberance as Max Bialystock onstage could be his ticket to a first-time Academy mention. Matthew Broderick is another Tony-winning stage vet who hasn’t displayed his musical chops in movies yet. He also could be in line for a first Oscar nom, although it’s more likely that the Golden Globes will find a slot in its musical/comedy actor category. Male lead is often a crowded field, and it can be hard for comedy/musical perfs to be recognized (Richard Gere was left out of “Chicago’s” nomination blitz, remember). Supporting is where the Academy will usually honor a laugh-getter, and Will Ferrell, as an unhinged playwriting Nazi, and Uma Thurman, as the va-va-voomish secretary, can take heart in the fact that Oscars have rewarded everything from Kevin Kline’s wild turn in “A Fish Called Wanda” to Marisa Tomei for her foul-mouthed girlfriend in “My Cousin Vinny.” Music trophies are tricky for film tuners if they are adaptations of established stage shows, because the honor is for work written for the screen. The tradition of late, then — with “Grease,” “Evita,” “Chicago” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” for example — has been to add a new song, which Brooks has done for “Producers.” He’s been up for his songwriting skills before, sharing a nomination with John Morris for the title theme of 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.” “The Producers” also reps beloved stage choreographer-director Susan Stroman’s feature helming. With “Chicago” director Rob Marshall snaring a nom his first time out, Stroman could be caught up in a potential “Producers” sweep. Craft mentions from costumes to art direction also commonly are doled out to musicals due to the genre’s emphasis on sparkle and dazzle. In the case of “Chicago” and “Moulin Rouge,” the categories were winners.
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