THE PRODUCERS opens on Shubert Alley on the opening night of a musical version of HAMLET called FUNNY BOY! produced by the indefatigable Max Bialystock. "It's Opening Night" sing the usherettes and as the first nighters enter they sing, "He's done it again….It's the worst show in town!"
We now see the tuxedo clad Max trying to figure out what went wrong in the self-serving song, "The King of Old Broadway." Max vows to be on the top again.
We now find ourselves in the once elegant and now shabby office of Max Bialystock. He has been reduced to living in his office and his sleep is interrupted by a knock on the door. Is it fate? No, it is a shleppy accountant named Leo Bloom who has come to do Max's books. Max forces Leo into the bathroom while one of his investors, Hold Me-Touch Me, an elderly lady, enters but withholds her check until Max plays one dirty game with her. The game is begun but Leo comes out of the bathroom and the little old lady leaves—at least until Thursday.
Max's books don't add up and Leo berated by Max pulls out his blue blanket and curls up on the floor into a fetal position. Max wonders, "They come here. They all come here. How do they find me?" Leo has discovered that Max had raised a hundred thousand dollars for FUNNY BOY! but only spent ninety-eight thousand leaving two thousand unaccounted for. Since the show was a major flop, Max convinces Leo to move a few decimal points around which will keep him from going to jail. After all, the I.R.S. isn't interested in a show that wasn't a success.
Max takes the next step and tells Bloom they could find the worst play and director in town, raise two million (one million for each of them) and then with the worst actors in town produce a gigantic flop and go to Rio with the money. Max tries to convince the reluctant Bloom to follow his lead in "We Can Do It"
Bloom returns to Whitehall and Marks, his accounting office where he is berated for being six minutes late. Working as an automaton on his adding machine, Bloom realizes, with the help of fantasy gorgeous chorus girls that "I Wanna Be A Producer" where he can lunch at Sardi's, sport a top hat and cane, and sleep until half-past two—that is to say "I wanna be a producer….'cause it's everything I'm not." Leo leaves his job crying, "Stop the world, I wanna get on!"
Leo returns to Max and some time later they are discovered reading scripts trying to find the worst play ever written. Max finally finds it: SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER, A GAY ROMP WITH EVA AND ADOLF AT BERCHTESGADEN guaranteed "to close on page 4."
In the West Village at 61 Jane Street, the author of the play, Franz Liebkind, dressed in lederhosen and a German Army helmet, sings "In Old Bavaria" an ode to his homeland and his beloved Nazis even though he had "nossing" to do with the war. "Ve lived in the back. Right across from Svitzerland. All ve heard vas yodeling."
Franz won't sign unless Max and Leo join him in the Fuhrer's favorite tune, "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop." They sing; he signs.
We now find ourselves in the elegant foyer and living room of Roger De Bris, the noted director. Carmen Ghia, his "assistant" is fielding his phone calls when Max and Leo enter. De Bris enters in a silvery full-length Art Deco gown. He tells Max that Liebkind's play is remarkable but too dark and depressing for him to direct. He tells them to "Keep It Gay." With the hope of a Tony Award and the ability to make SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER happy and gay, De Bris signs a contract.
Back in the office a gorgeous young Swedish girl named Ulla enters. She wants to audition and does with "When You've Got It, Flaunt It." Max offers her the part, even though Leo isn't sure there is one for her in the play. Max offers her the job of secretary-slash-receptionist until rehearsals begin.
Max explains to Leo that producers never put their own money into shows and that he has hundreds of little old ladies as investors. Max takes Leo into Little Old Lady Land with the song, "Along Came Bialy." He explains they were joyless and boyless, listing and sinking until he came along. Lots of little old ladies pushing walkers which make tap sounds give checks to Max, "the celebration of love…" The money has been raised and SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER is ready to be mounted.
Ulla has been busy and the office has been transformed into a miracle of Swedish "moderne" with everything painted a high-gloss white. Max gets cash from the safe and exits to pay the Shubert's rent for the theatre and leaves Leo and Ulla alone to sing, "That Face!" in which Leo and Ulla proclaim their love for one another.
On the bare stage of a Broadway theatre, Carmen Ghia is teaching a stage full of Hitlers to dance. They exit and a group of singing Hitlers take the stage. One is more awful than the next. Liebkind shows one how to sing "Have You Ever Heard the German Band?" and Max proclaims, "That's our Hitler!!" Liebkind is to play his hero!
It is now opening night and Max wishes everyone good luck but he is called up short because "It's Bad Luck to Say Good Luck On Op'ning Night." The more he is told how much bad luck it is to say it, Max insists on wishing everyone good luck. Ironically enough, when Liebkind is told to break a leg, he does, and with no understudy the show may have to be called off until Max tells De Bris he can do it. De Bris balks at this until Carmen tells him, "You're going out there a silly hysterical screaming queen and you're coming back a great big passing-for-straight Broadway star!!" With his Hitler moustache and his lucky Gloria Swanson mole De Bris exits to play the role of Hitler.
The next thing we see is the show stopping number "Springtime for Hitler." Including a squad of tap dancing storm troupers and follies girls with headdresses of giant pretzels, bratwurst, and beer steins, the number is tasteless, offensive, and totally hysterical. At the end of the dance section De Bris as Hitler sits at the edge of the stage a la Judy Garland and sings to the audience. This is followed by the entrance of Stalin, Churchill, and FDR who are defeated by our singing-tap dancing Hitler. The number ends with the storm troopers forming a swastika that rotates clockwise and chorus girls astride cannon.
But the show, as tasteless and over the top it was, is a smash hit. Leo and Max (in "Where Did We Go Right?" sing, "The show was lousy and long, We did everything wrong, Where did we go right?"Leo takes the account books and is going to turn himself in when De Bris and Carmen enter soon followed by Liebkind brandishing a gun, furious that they have made fun of Hitler. Pandemonium ensues. The gun malfunctions but Max tries to convince Liebkind to kill all the actors. This way the show will have to close. Just at that moment the police break in and try to arrest the alleged shooter, Liebkind, who rushes offstage, crashes, and breaks his other leg. The cops arrest him and find the two accounting books on the couch. Max is arrested but Leo (who has been hiding all this time) is convinced by Ulla, who has just entered in a slinky gown, that he shouldn't go to jail but to take the whole two million and go to Rio, of course, with her.
In a holding cell a few weeks later, Max receives a postcard from Leo and Ulla in Brazil. Max sings he has been "Betrayed." After summarizing all that went before with snippet upon snippet of previous songs, he sings, "Just like Julius Caesar was betrayed by Brutus, Who'd think an accountant would turn out to be my Judas!"
In a courtroom, Max is about to be sentenced when Leo reappears calling himself a rat who deserted a sinking ship. He hands over the remains of the two million (less the cost of the hotel, airfare, and a large jar of cocoa butter) to the judge and in "'Til Him" they re-avow their friendship. The judge, not wishing to break up such a beautiful friendship, sentences them both to five years in Sing Sing.
We find ourselves in Sing Sing at a rehearsal of PRISONERS OF LOVE, the latest production of Bialystock and Bloom. As the title song is being sung by real prisoners, a trustee enters with a pardon for Max, Leo, and Liebkind "for having- through song and dance- brought joy and laughter into the hearts of every murderer, rapist, and sex maniac in Sing Sing."
The set changes to the Broadway version of "Prisoners of Love" with Ulla and De Bris in leading roles. The show, a Shubert Alley sign proclaims, is now in its 4th smash year. Believe it or not, Max and Leo are now real (and successful) Broadway producers!