Monty Python May Have Inspired Mel Brooks to Make a Musical

Eric Idle says it was his idea; Mel Brooks begs to differ
Monty Python May Have Inspired Mel Brooks to Make a Musical

In the early 1990s, Monty Python’s Eric Idle thought Broadway musicals had stopped being funny. Can you blame him? In David Morgan’s Monty Python Speaks, Idle lamented the demise of broad, goofy musicals in favor of shows about “people with plates on their faces.” One can assume he was referring to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s decidedly unfunny Phantom of the Opera.

Idle decided to do something about it, approaching comic legend Mel Brooks with an intriguing idea: What if we turned your classic comedy The Producers into a musical?  According to Idle, Brooks turned him down, claiming it wasn’t a good idea. But he clearly changed his mind because just a few years later, Brooks made The Producers into a stage smash that won 12 Tony Awards, breaking the previous record held by Hello, Dolly!  

The bad news for Idle was that he wasn’t in on the action. The good news was that The Producers had Broadway looking for more silly musicals, paving the way for Idle to adapt Monty Python and the Holy Grail into the hit musical Spamalot

I won’t say Idle didn’t inspire Brooks, but the nearly 100-year-old comic has a different memory. In his memoir All About Me!: My Remarkable Live In Show Business, Brooks claims “it all began with a nonstop series of phone calls from David Geffen.” Geffen’s pitch sounds remarkably similar to Idle’s: “Mel, I think The Producers would make a great Broadway show. It would be the funniest show ever done on Broadway.” Because Geffen had produced the successful musical Dreamgirls, maybe Brooks was more open to the suggestion. 

But was either Idle or Geffen truly responsible for the inspiration? Brooks had “a lifelong quest” to write a musical, according to Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man: Mel Brooks. He wrote the book for All American, a musical with the team behind Bye Bye Birdie that was nominated for two Tonys in 1962, and before he wrote the screenplay for The Producers, Brooks was working on another funny stage musical about “Hitler’s young and idyllic love life” called — wait for it — Springtime for Hitler

Of course, Springtime for Hitler became the signature musical number in both the film and stage production of The Producers. But the original Producers, according to McGilligan, had been intended first as a novel and then as a stage musical before becoming a film. In fact, back in the 1960s, Brooks negotiated a contract with the producers of The Producers that gave him all future rights to turn the movie into a stage property. 

Turns out Brooks thought his film would make a great Broadway musical decades before Geffen or Idle could spark the idea in his head. 


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?