note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
There may not be enough adjectives to describe the outstanding touring company of “The Producers: The New Mel Brooks Musical,” currently playing at The Colonial Theatre through next weekend. Exuberant, polished and hilarious, the richly-appointed theatrical wonder begins and ends with a great story, and everything in-between is so expertly infused with talent and creativity that it is still fresh and vibrant, even four years after its Broadway debut.
Eye-popping, jaw-dropping entertainment, “The Producers” covers old material in a new way. Or some might say, new material in an old way. But either way one chooses to look at it, it’s no secret that the action-filled, non-stop schtick, gags, and jokes is Mel Brooks’ valentine to the musicals of the Great White Way; and in doing so, the 78-year-old author (with Thomas Meehan of “Hairspray and “Annie” fame), composer, lyricist, and yes, producer became an instant legend when the show scored an historic 12 Tony Awards in 2001.
Of course, the amazing director/choreographer Susan Stroman has her fingerprints up every little old ladies dress as well as every knock-out number in the show. And the upper tier of Broadway’s top-notch creative fellows -- Robin Wagner’s set and William Ivey Long’s costumes are splendidly colorful while offering a visual wallop to Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design -- follow suit with a rich display of panoramic scenes that rival Brooks’ and Stroman’s over-the-top and below-the-belt leap into Borscht Belt humor.
And the ensemble of dancers and singers, a multi-talented group, are in a class of their own.
Is it funny? Oy, is it funny. Jews, black, gays, straights, old ladies, ballet dancers, buxom blondes, and Broadway producers (the lowest of any scoundrels) are insulted in equal doses with the humor, pranks and sight gags whooshing faster than a speeding train, which is probably the only thing that could stop the inimitable Brooks in his tracks.
But why would anyone want to? Hatched from his fertile -- or some might say feral -- imagination, the plot, for anyone living under a rock for the past several years, comes straight from Brooks’ first film, the 1968 cult classic, “The Producers,” starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
In a pumpkin shell, the endearingly annoying Max Bialystock (Bob Amaral in an authentic, charismatically Gleasonesque, so-light-on-his-feet portrayal), a desperate opera impresario of Broadway flops hires Leopold Bloom (the nerdy, triple threat Andy Taylor), an accountant who is as inhibited as Max is grandiose. This Laurel and Hardy duo devise what seems to be a sure-fire scam: produce a play guaranteed to fail, selling more than 1000 percent in investments, and hightail it with the profits. Except the plan backfires when “Springtime for Hitler,” a tribute to the Third Reich, succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, even though it originates from the dregs of German expatriate, playwright Franz Liebkind’s pen in a boffo performance from barrell-chested, full-throttle-voiced Bill Nolte. As director turned Fuhrer Roger De Bris (an hysterical (as in ha-ha funny) flaming queen who makes his entrance as a butch in a ball gown), Stuart Marland exudes chemistry whether flying solo or in tandem with his fancy pants assistant Carmen Ghia (Rich Affannato portraying the epitome of fagginess). Swindling little, old ladies in exchange for sexual favors as well as a trial, a prison scene, a Zeigfield Follies number with a nod to “A Chorus Line,” the Busby Berkeley spectacles and the Nazi swastika add more layers to the plot, which include quick-as-a-blink references and sight gags to dozens of musicals, composers and entertainers, and anything else that comes out of Brooks’ divinely depraved imagination.
Is it fun? Yes. Entertaining? For sure. Art? Who the f--k cares! But from conception to execution it is a work of the highest quality that need not rely on star billing, since the entire cast is so pitch perfect that, as a group, they become a star in their own right. Still a winner, “The Producers” takes a hint from its own plot and closes the show as a big, fat hit.
“The Producers,” February 22- March 6; The Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street, Boston. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787 or visit BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.