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Speaking of infamy and controversy ... Long before the Weinsteins put their money into The Producers, Bob & Harvey were toying with getting Miramax into the movie musical business. For several years now, the studio's been actively developing a big screen version of another somewhat bawdy Broadway musical: Bob Fosse's Chicago. Noted theatrical director Rob Marshall (Best known to Disneyana fans as the man who helmed the acclaimed TV movie version of that Broadway favorite, Annie, which made its world premiere on The Wonderful World of Disney back in November 1999) is currently working on the project. Marshall has hopes of roping in folks like John Travolta, Rosie O'Donnell and -- yes -- Madonna again for this proposed Miramax production. Working off a Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) script, Chicago could begin production as early as this fall.

So, if Walt Disney Studios' arthouse arm were to release a movie musical built around a notorious murder trial in old Chicago, is it so hard to believe that -- a few years down the line -- the Mouse might have something to do with a film that features a funny Fuhrer?

Speaking of the Fuhrer, fans of the Broadway version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast might be surprised to learn who got cast as the amusing Adolph in Brooks' new musical. It's stage veteran Gary Beach -- the man who originated the role of Lumiere in the first stage production of Beast.

Many theater insiders felt that Gary's performance as the amorous French candelabra should have been recognized with a Tony back in the spring of 1994. But -- back then -- Broadway vets weren't all that eager to reward Disney for bringing its brand of magic to the Great White Way. So -- though Beast did receive 9 nominations (Including one for Beach as best supporting male in a new musical) -- the show was only awarded one measly Tony: Best Costuming (Ann Hould-Ward).

But the injustice, oversight, whatever of Gary missing out on the rightful recognition of his peers looks like it's about to be corrected. The buzz is that Beach is an absolute shoo-in for this year's Tony for best supporting male in a new musical.

What's genuinely bizarre about all this is that -- as one watches Gary's performance as a mincing, musical Adolph at the center of The Producers's bombastically big Act II production number, Springtime for Hitler -- one can't help but think of Beach's work in Beauty and the Beast. After all, here he is again. Descending a staircase, singing a memorable showtune, surrounded by actresses dressed in costumes that feature oversized kitchen items. Only this time -- instead of giant sugar cubes and dinner plates -- the dancers are now adorned with huge pretzels and beer steins.

I know it might strike some strange to describe a musical number with a title like Springtime for Hitler as "a memorable showtune." But you have to understand that the premise of The Producers is that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's characters are out to find their fortune by mounting a sure fire flop. That's why they decide to produce a show called "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden."

So here you have this Act II musical number that really works at two levels: As a wildly funny parody of all those over-blown, show-stopping numbers like Be Our Guest that you've seen in traditional musicals. But also -- all on its own -- "Springtime For Hitler" is really this sprightly, hummable sort of tune.

Look. It's not really fair for me to try and describe this number. That's why you should make plans now to watch CBS's broadcast of the 54th American Theatre Wing’s Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards on Sunday, June 3rd. Why? Because the Weinstein brothers are pushing the other producers of The Producers to allow the Springtime for Hitler production number to be presented as part of that night's program. Supposedly, this is the only time that Gary Beach and the rest of the cast will ever perform Springtime for Hitler outside of the St. James theater. So, if you want to see for yourself why Gary is deserving of a Tony (And -- more importantly -- why so many people keep saying that this particular number reminds them of something out of Disney's Beauty and the Beast), be sure to tune in for that night's broadcast.

Speaking on Tonys and TVs ... Which actor do you suppose the Walt Disney Company wants to win this year's award for best actor in a new musical? Oddly enough, it's not Nathan Lane. The Mouse would actually prefer it if Matthew Broderick got to take home this year's Tony.

Why? Because Disney's got Matthew signed up to appear in an upcoming TV movie version of Meredith Wilson's classic musical, The Music Man. Broderick's turn as the fast-talking salesman Professor Harold Hill would be that much easier to promote if Matthew were this year's Tony winner. (By the way -- as an extra added bonus for this projected 2002 production -- Disney has signed Broderick's real-life wife, Sex in the City's Sara Jessica Parker to appear opposite him as repressed River City librarian, Marian Paroo.)

Mind you, this isn't the only way that Disney hopes to cash in on the popularity of The Producers. How so? Well, demand was so great for tickets to Mel Brooks' new musical last week that the producers of The Producers felt confident that they'd be able to get away with hiking the price of an orchestra seat to the show from $91 to $100. And -- since demand for seats to Disney's The Lion King still remains very strong -- you should expect that the Mouse to very soon follow The Producers' example and bump the cost of an orchestra seat at the New Amsterdam theater to upwards of a hundred bucks.

So The Lion King must now regrettably step down as the undisputed ruler of Broadway. But -- given the many ways that The Producers and the Walt Disney Company are linked (And given how the new show's success will actually cause the Mouse's wallet to fatten up) -- I can't imagine that there'll be too many depressed people kicking around the offices of Disney Theatrical Productions.

After all, these people really don't have time to mope. They're far too busy working on that new Disney musical revue as well as those stage versions of The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio.

But those are stories that will have to wait for another time ... For now, just mark your calendar for June 3rd and be sure to watch this year's Tony Awards to get a quick taste of the Disney-related fun you can have while attending a performance of The Producers.

Discuss It

-- Jim Hill

Jim Hill can be reached using the Talkback form below or by emailing him at [email protected].

Jim Hill is this guy who lives 'way out in the woods of New Hampshire. (Hey, it's not like he wants to live there. But the Witness Protection Program has got rules, you know.) He has one beautiful daughter and three obnoxious cats. When he's not looking for real work, Jim writes about the Walt Disney Company and related matters for LaughingPlace.com, AmusementPark.com, "Orlando Weekly" and Digital Media FX.

The opinions expressed by Jim Hill, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the past decisions and future plans of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

-- Posted April 26, 2001

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