B’way ‘Producers’ to close

Brooks tuner will shutter April 22

This springtime will be the last for Hitler on Broadway.

“The Producers,” the Mel Brooks tuner that broke box office records and created the phenomenon of the premium-priced ticket when it opened in 2001 and then swept that year’s Tonys Awards, will shutter April 22 after six years on the boards.

The spring closing date suggests that producers of “The Producers” were unsuccessful in convincing the musical’s original stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, to return for a potential sales-goosing engagement in the show’s closing stretch.

Still, “Producers” creatives — including scribe and tunesmith Brooks, co-book writer Thomas Meehan and helmer Susan Stroman — won’t be gone from the St. James for long. Theater’s next tenant will be “Young Frankenstein,” another legit tuner from the “Producers” team based on another Brooks film. Show is said to be set for a Halloween opening.

“The Producers” opened on Broadway on April 19, 2001, following a buzz-generating tryout in Chicago, and soon the show had redefined the Rialto’s idea of boffo.

The day after opening to rave reviews, tuner wrapped a record-breaking $3 million. Later that spring the musical nabbed an unprecedented 12 Tonys, a tally that still stands as the most in the awards’ history for a single production. The press lionized the show and helped feed the hype.

“Producers” was also the first show to hawk premium-priced seats — tickets in prime locations that could be purchased with less advance notice but at a boosted price (as much as $480 at the time). That practice is now commonplace on the Rialto, allowing shows such as last spring’s Julia Roberts starrer “Three Days of Rain” to capitalize on high demand.

Over the last two years, box office for “The Producers” has seen a steady decline, punctuated by occasional bumps in biz. In January weekly grosses fell below $500,000, although the week between Christmas and New Year’s tallied more than $1.1 million.

Given the hype, the show’s six-year lifespan could seem a short one compared with, for instance, the 19-years-and-counting run of “The Phantom of the Opera.” However, true musical comedies (as opposed to romances) generally have not had epic runs on Broadway so by that standard, “Producers” was a strong performer.

The show’s longevity may ultimately have been hurt by the much-lauded team of Lane and Broderick, whose near-legendary performances in the starring roles could have given the impression that the musical’s appeal was driven by stars as opposed to the material. (In early 2004, the thesps and production cashed in on a return engagement for the team.)

Some legiters speculate that the show’s Broadway-centered storyline proved less compelling to auds outside of Gotham and to foreign tourists in particular. It didn’t catch on in Toronto in 2004, for instance, and Universal’s 2005 movie version tanked.

But if producers could have hoped for a longer Broadway run, they still don’t have much reason to cry. Show has raked in more than $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to reps.

When it closes, “Producers” will have played 33 previews and 2,502 regular perfs on Broadway. Other incarnations of the tuner include a production in Las Vegas starring David Hasselhoff, a recently closed run in London’s West End and international versions in Hungary, Korea and Israel, among others.

Talk emerged in recent weeks that a limited-run Broadway transfer of the well-received Encores! revival of “Follies” would hit the St. James during the interim between “Producers” and “Frankenstein.” That now seems unlikely.

Roadblocks are said to include high production costs for the brief run, star Donna Murphy’s unavailability (she’s committed to “LoveMusik,” opening May 3) and composer Stephen Sondheim’s rumored unwillingness to cannibalize the aud for another of his shows currently on Broadway, “Company.”

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