Original Broadway Cast, 2001 (Sony) (5 / 5) Here is Mel Brooks’ full-blown musical version of his semi-musical 1968 movie about a has-been Broadway producer’s backfired scheme to bilk his show’s investors by staging a colossal flop. This recording has all the excitement of the Broadway smash hit, and the star power of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick comes through in one of the brashest cast albums ever made. The Producers epitomizes Borscht Belt humor; Brooks’ clever songs are charming and hilariously offensive at the same time. While many of the numbers are obvious pastiches of Tin Pan Alley standards, they’re sturdy enough to progress the uproarious plot rapidly and effectively. The show opened to extravagant critical and audience acclaim, and it garnered a record 12 Tony Awards. The performances of Lane as the frantic producer Max Bialystock and Broderick as Leo Bloom, the panicky accountant who becomes Max’s co-producer, display a comic brilliance unheard on cast albums since the days of Zero Mostel and Carol Channing. Also brilliant is Gary Beach as Roger De Bris, the effete, delusional director who ultimately portrays a Judy Garland-like Hitler in the show’s outrageous centerpiece production number, “Springtime for Hitler” — one of this recording’s major highlights. Roger Bart as De Bris’ “common-law assistant,” Carmen Ghia, shines no less brightly. Other highlights are Cady Huffman as Ulla belting out “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” and Brad Oscar as Franz Liebkind selling “Haben Sie Gehört das Deutsche Band?” Nathan Lane’s marathon “Betrayed” is a tour de force, and the finale, “Prisoners of Love (Leo & Max),” is spine-tingling in classic Broadway style. — Gerard Alessandrini
Film Soundtrack, 2005 (Sony) (3 / 5) Although the movie version of this hysterical Broadway smash was generally regarded as an inferior stage-to-screen adaptation, the soundtrack album is highly enjoyable overall. The film may have lacked a cinematic flair in being overly faithful to the stage version, but the score was given a full-blown movie musical treatment, to wondrous effect. The orchestrations by Doug Besterman and Larry Blank are a joy to listen to, as are the expanded choruses, and the zippy musical direction of Patrick S. Brady adds just the right amount of over-the-top frenzy. Almost all of the songs from the show score are retained, as well as the brilliant performances of Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick. Vocally, these two sound even better here than on the original Broadway cast album. A new performance, by John Barrowman as the lead tenor in “Springtime For Hitler,” is at once vocally thrilling and appropriately campy. On the minus side, a major let-down is the absence of Brad Oscar singing “Haben Sie Gehört Das Deutsches Band?”’ The rendition heard here, by the better-known Will Ferrell, lacks enough energy to be funny. And while Uma Thurman may have looked good in the movie as Ulla, her solo “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” also misses the punch of the original stage performance by Cady Huffman. But if you skip these tracks, this is a fine and very listenable recording of one of the funniest musicals ever created. — G.A.