The Producers The New MEL BROOKS Musical The Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, PA is ending the season with a highly energized performance of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, a show that explores how not to do something right.
Broadway producer, Max Bialystock (played by Ben Lipitz) and accountant, Leo Bloom (Ben Dibble) calculate that they can earn more money making a flop than a hit. They set out to hire the worst director in town, the worst actors, and mount an utterly tasteless play, Springtime for Hitler, that claims to be a musical celebration of the romantic side of the Nazi leader. The play becomes a hit, is hailed as a satirical masterpiece and, as a result, the producers face financial disaster! What did they do right? Who cares? In an effort to show the making of a disaster, Mel Brooks’ music and lyrics, aided by the artistic direction of Bernard Harvard, the musical and vocal direction of Douglass G. Lutz, and the choreography and direction of Marc Robin, kept the audience laughing from curtain rise to curtain fall. As the play opens, Max Bialystock -- with a name like that, already this reporter is amused -- produces the latest in a series of flops, a show entitled, Hamlet, the Musical. He retreats to his office, a sparsely designed set with casting couch (used to woo hormonally induced geriatric women into writing sizable checks to bankroll his productions), desk and chair, and, most important, an armoire consisting of pictures of all his lovers ( “I have the denture marks to prove it,” moans Max). Leo Bloom, a nerdy, high-strung, under-medicated, nervous wreck of an accountant arrives to assess Max’s books. Leo wishes to be a producer, and, after much banter between him and Max (“You have two sets of books, Max”), Leo discovers a way in which Max can make money: produce a flop; that way he can keep the money obtained from his paramour investors. This excites Max and puts Leo into a tailspin of hysteria because he will be doing something strictly out-of-character. Max assures Leo, singing, “We Can Do It”, but to appease himself, Leo pulls out a blue blanket swatch from his childhood and passionately self-soothes. The accounting firm in which Leo works portrays a staid robotic sameness that causes one to cringe. The drabness is broken when a chorus line of dancers enter the scene, dressed in low cut leotards, feathers, and sequins…so Mel Brooks! Of course, one dancer (Sean Bell) is in drag and it is his character that brings the audience to a lustful roar. Max and Leo find the perfect flop of a play, Springtime for Hitler, written by a crazed Nazi supporter, Franz Leibkind (Jeffrey Coon), who sings to his pigeons, “In Old Bavaria”, while the pigeons, donned in swastika arm band, salutes to the name of Hitler whenever mentioned. Brooks sticks it to the Third Reich! To win Leibkind’s signature for the rights of to the play, Max and Leo have to sing and dance to “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop”, and wear swastikas, “Max, we’re in too deep!”, says Leo; “No, I’ll tell you when we’re in too deep,” responds Max as he turns to the audience and cries, “Oy!”. Max and Leo obtain the needed rights to the play and return to the office to prepare looking for the worst director and actors. In walks Ulla (Amy Bodnar), with big breasts, long legs, tight dress, and blonde hair. She is every man’s wet dream, and, once again, Brooks, never known for his subtlety, emphasizes the fact with claps of thunder and bolts of lightening. Ulla is well aware of her “gifts” and tells the men, “When You Got It, Flaunt It!”. The men are drooling, the women are laughing, and, once again, predictable comedy and perfect timing wins the audience. Roger DeBris (Jeremy Webb), gay director of gay productions, is chosen to direct Leibkind’s play. DeBris’ man servant, Carmen Ghia (Robert McClure), and he expose a side of homosexuality that is not only satirically humorous, but grossly over-the-top! How did Brooks get away with this? He did, and thank goodness for that! Diversity exists and the audience approved. The assemblage of the worst actors, the worst settings, the worst everything, is completed and triumph is shouted in song, “Along Came Bialy” as the curtain falls at the end of Act One.As the Second Act opens, much to Max and Leo’s surprise, Springtime for Hitler, becomes a runaway hit! Max and Leo are mortified, “Where did we go right?” Now they have to pay back their backers with the money they had hoped they would keep. “NOW we’re in too deep!” cries Max. Leo and Ulla run away to Rio and Max goes to jail. Not to worry, however: in jail, Max produces another hit, Prisoners of Love. Leo returns from Rio with his wife, Ulla, and all ends well. Mel Brooks is known for his outrageous risqué humor and he does not disappoint with the writing of The Producers; but it is the Walnut Street Theatre’s entourage of actors, so aptly directed and choreographed, who bring the show to a standing ovation. Although the humor is predictable, it was the timing and delivery that made this production a success. The Producers is being performed at The Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA from May 12, 2009 to July 19, 2009.