‘The Producers’ plays in Peoria

B'way hit shines in media spotlight

NEW YORK — A reporter from CNN Financial News phoned the Variety offices last week to ask about “The Producers.”

“What does it mean financially for Broadway?” he wanted to know.

After the $100 ticket price, the $20 million advance and the $2.8 million day-after take were explained, Variety posed its own question: “When is the last time CNN Financial News did a story on a Broadway show?”

The reporter didn’t know but phoned an hour later to reveal: “In July 1999, we did a story on the crane that fell when they were putting up the Conde Nast building and ‘Cabaret’ had to close for a few weeks.”

And before that?

“In 1998 there was the Ticketmaster IPO.”

Which is not a Broadway show. But you get the idea.

CNN is not alone in its sudden rediscovery of Broadway via “The Producers.”

“ABC World News Tonight” has aired a seg on the smash hit tuner, its first theater outing since a July 1999 centenary celebration of Broadway that featured “Show Boat” (the original production, not the revival).

Mike Wallace recently interviewed “Producers” creator Mel Brooks on “60 Minutes,” which last went legit in April 1999 with an Audra McDonald profile.

“The Producers” captured more rare national TV coverage when E!, “Access Hollywood,” “Inside Edition” and “Entertainment Tonight” all converged at the show’s opening-night party. (“ET” did cover the Off Broadway opening of “Bat Boy,” but only on the condition that Monica Lewinsky show up. Luckily for the “BB” producers, Monica materialized as promised.)

Media-wise, “The Producers” recalls the days when show tunes ruled the pop charts and national magazines covered Broadway openings as if they were Hollywood premieres.

Well, almost.

Time and Newsweek did their respective multipage stories on “Producers” two weeks in advance of the show’s opening. (Time got Brooks’ one and only print interview; Newsweek settled for quotes from Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.)

But in a maneuver that could raise David Merrick from the grave, neither newsweekly is expected to print a review of the tuner.

“It would be highly unusual for us to do a second piece,” explains Richard Zoglin, Time’s legit critic. Newsweek did not return calls.

In a first for Talk magazine, Tina Brown is putting theater folk on the cover, with “Producers” stars Lane, Broderick and Cady Huffman gracing her June-July issue.

The editor in chief reportedly made the decision during intermission at the Broadway preem, banishing previous cover girl Estella Warren (“Planet of the Apes”) from newsstands everywhere.

Alongside ‘The Sopranos’

With all this national attention, people out there in Peoria will soon mention “The Producers” in the same breath as Britney Spears and “Talk Soup.”

The Brooks tuner may even enter the zeitgeist to take its rightful place alongside “The Sopranos” as yet another sterling nail in the coffin of political correctness.

Not even GLAAD, the gay media watchdog, appears offended by the show’s depiction of homosexuals. At the opening night “Producers” party, several liberal theater pros told Variety they laughed hardest at the show’s portrayal of “the dyke lighting designer,” as they so delicately put it.

In other words, it is now official: “The Producers” is to gays what “The Sopranos” is to Italian-Americans, what “Sex and the City” is to women, and what “Traffic” is to Mexicans.

What better company could a Broadway show possibly find itself?

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