By Michael Kuchwara
Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom said goodbye Sunday to Broadway, as "The Producers," the hit Mel Brooks musical, ended its New York run after 2,502 performances.
It was an emotional, highly charged matinee at the St. James Theatre as the show's current Max (John Treacy Egan) and Leo (Hunter Foster) led the company through the show — to raucous cheers, particularly during its legendary "Springtime for Hitler" number.
At the curtain after the cast took its bows, Brooks came on stage with director-choreographer Susan Stroman and co-book writer Thomas Meehan to even more wild applause.
"It has been the best experience for me since World War II. And (with) just about as much noise," joked Brooks, who also wrote the show's music and lyrics. "We have had six years ... of frolic and joy, and you have been such an incredibly good audience to really cap it off and give us such a rich, final performance. I love everybody on stage, backstage and out front."
"We love you, Mel," yelled a voice from the audience, which included a contingent of "Producers," fans, many of whom had come back to see the musical for one last time.
"It's a madcap, merry tribute to New York," said James Kabel, a wardrobe supervisor at the Metropolitan Opera, who was on his fourth visit. "It's wonderful."
The show, which won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards including best musical, was one of the most critically praised stage productions of the last decade. It was based on Brooks' 1968 film about two charlatan producers who scam little old ladies out of their money to put on a flop Broadway show about Adolf Hitler.
"The Producers" grossed more than $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, from productions that played not only in New York and around the country, but worldwide, including an extended engagement in London.
"The Producers" originally starred Nathan Lane as Max and Matthew Broderick as Leo, and featured Cady Huffman as Ulla, Gary Beach as Roger de Bris and Roger Bart as Carmen Ghia.
The show, which opened April 19, 2001, was such a hit that the top ticket price was raised the next day from $91 to $100 — a $99 top price plus $1 for theater restoration.
"The Producers" also ushered in the era of so-called "premium tickets," the best in the house, for which theatergoers were charged $480. These days, all Broadway shows sell them, and cost from $100 to $250 more than regular ticket prices, which, for most musicals, now are $110 or more.
The St. James, one of Broadway's prime musical houses, is expected to be the home of Brooks' next production, "Young Frankenstein," based on his 1974 movie. Stroman will also direct, with a score by Brooks and a book co-written by him and Meehan. The musical is planned for this fall. No casting has been announced.
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