Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Producers"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"The Producers"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing show of Theatre by the Sea's 75th season is the Broadway sensation "The Producers". Based on Mel Brooks' Academy Award-winning 1968 film, this bawdy musical is the story of down-on-his luck theatrical producer Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, a mousy accountant. Together they hatch the ultimate scam: raise more money than needed for a sure-fire Broadway flop and pocket the difference. Their "sure-fire" theatrical fiasco is none other than the musical "Springtime for Hitler" written by neo-Nazi, Franz Liebkind, an ex-Nazi storm trooper which tells the story of Hitler's rise to power in song and dance. They are convinced that they have found a show that is guaranteed to offend just about everyone. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show is accessible to a wide range of audiences and draws on ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes. It also has nazi-arm-band wearing chickens, dancing storm troopers, dirty old ladies with euphemisms such as "Lick-me,Bite-me" and "hold-me,Touch-me, a song with the refrain "Don't be stupid/Be a smarty/Come join the Nazi party!" The musical opened on April 19, 2001 and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. This version is directed splendidly by Jerome Vivona who previously directed productions of "Guys & Dolls", "West Side Story" and "Sweet Charity" at this theatre ( I saw the latter two shows and they won rave reviews from me.) He not only directs and blocks the show perfectly but casts all the roles with topnotch performers, too. Jerome is joined by choreographer Brad Musgrove, who performed in and served as dance captain for the original Broadway production of "The Producers" who recreates all the splendid choreography for this show. Last but not least is musical director Andrew Smithson who not only plays the keyboards for this show but conducts a fantastic orchestra. The incredible voices of the cast soar in their solos, duets and group numbers due to his expertise. The musical is sure to offend anyone without a funny bone and bring child like glee to everyone else. To quote words from "Spring Time for Hitler", the audience is sure to leave the theatre feeling "Happy and Gay". This version of "The Producers" is an absolute must see. It is rewarded at the end with a thunderous standing ovation.

The musical is set in 1959 and leading this cast of madcap and larger than life characters is Bob Arnold who last played Theatre by the Sea 28 years ago as another Max, in "The Sound of Music". This time he is Max Bialystock, "The King of Broadway" who has directed nothing but flops for quite a few years. (Bob's show stopping number is near the end of the show, "Betrayed" where he sings snippets of every song up to that point and is reminiscent of "The Legacy" from "On The Twentieth Century") In walks accountant, Leo Bloom who is also excellently played by Doug Trapp, a New York actor who is a tall, blond haired man who is made up to look like the biggest nerd in the world. Both men have fabulous voices and are expert comedians. The audience is sympathetic to Max and his crazy shenanigans of Step1: Find the worst play ever written, Step 2 Hire the worst director in town, Step 3 Raise two million dollars and Step 4 Hire the worst actors in New York and open on Broadway Step 5 Before we close on Broadway, take our two million and go to Rio. Leo realizes his life is going nowhere as an accountant in the song "I Wanna Be a Producer" and together with Bob brings the house down with "We Can Do It" when they decide to team up and in "Where Did We Go Right? when the show is a success instead of a failure. The most sentimental song in the show is "Til Him" between Bob and Doug when Leo returns to help Max at his trial.They both go to prison and create a show there for the convicts called "Prisoners of Love" where they dance around with a ball and chain. A happy ending finds Leo and Max arm in arm as they walk off into the sunset which reminds one of Rose and Louise at the end of "Gypsy". They finally find an author of the worst show ever, Franz Liebkind played wonderfully by Bruce Warren who gets to show off his voice in "Old Bavaria", "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" (Hitler's supposed favorite song) and "Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band?" (As Franz raises his index finger, Max and Leo give him the middle finger.) After they secure the author they go down to the townhouse of Roger De Bris, the worst director in New York and a flamboyant homosexual to boot. Played with high camp by Nate Suggs, he and his conga line are hilarious. Another show stealer in a show of show stealers is Brian Bailey as Carmen Ghia. His every move is hysterical especially as he exits the stage twice slowly being followed by a spotlight as he moves off stage with just his fingers left wiggling at the audience. Another standout in this show is the gorgeous young blond haired gal who plays Ulla. Julia Dennis is tall and statuesque as the blonde bombshell who Max and Leo both lust after. She auditions for them with a song called "If You've Got it Flaunt It" and boy has she got it! Excellent job in her first leading role after graduating from The American Musical and Dramatics Academy. It is in the second act during the song "That Face" that Leo falls in love with Ulla. A word of praise to Jeff Behan as the leading tenor who sings "Springtime for Hitler" , the most well known song in the show. The dirty old ladies are lead by Gail Yudain who with the other ladies (some men in drag among) do a dance with walkers that is extremely hilarious during "Along Came Bialy".Joel Silver designed the lights for the show which has tons of them while the multitude of gorgeous costumes are by Eric Hall. The many set pieces are by Robert Little and are easily moved on and off, keeping the action moving constantly. Kudos to the entire cast and crew on a job extremely well done. Jerome's direction of this show is superb and Bill Hanney and his production staff spare no expense to bring Broadway style entertainment to the South Shore of RI. Bravo on one of the best shows around this summer. Run do not walk to the box office. Tell them Tony sent you.(Also before the show be sure to go to The Bistro run by Karleen and Duane Crowe where I had a delicious dinner of eggplant florentine, string beans, french fries and turtle cheesecake, all which melted in my mouth.)

"The Producers" (6 - 31 August)
THEATRE BY THE SEA
364 Cards Pond Road, MATUNUCK RI
1 (401) 782-TKTS

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