The New York Times had an interesting story on Sunday about The Producers, which is still turning a profit every week, but a much smaller one than when the show was new:
Its box office grosses, which set record highs–more than $1.2 million per week–in its first year, have fallen about 20 percent in the last 12 months. It now ranks below newer shows like “Hairspray” and “Mamma Mia!” as well as “The Lion King,” the 1997 Disney phenomenon whose success some believed “The Producers” might emulate. Worse, in a supremely status-conscious metropolis, the show is now an easy ticket. “The Producers” has not regularly sold out since the beginning of the year, despite a bout of new television advertising.
I’m not surprised, nor should you be. As I wrote here back in July, Mel Brooks’ Borscht-belt style of anything-for-a-laugh humor is the last gasp of a dying comic language:
To see The Producers is to be immersed one final time in that older style of pressure-cooker comedy, and for those of us who were born before 1960 or so, the experience is as sweetly nostalgic as a trip to the state fair, which I rather doubt is what Mel Brooks had in mind. My guess is that he still thinks it’s titillating, even shocking, to put swishy Nazis on stage. It’s no accident that he hasn’t made a movie for years and years: Broadway is the last place in America where he could possibly draw a crowd with that kind of humor, and it’s not an especially young crowd, either.
With six months’ worth of Wall Street Journal drama columns under my belt, I feel even more confident in saying that we won’t be seeing many more shows like The Producers. If you seek the future of musical comedy on Broadway, look to Avenue Q. It’s smaller, hipper, faster, snarkier. And–yes–better.