Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Producers"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"The Music Man"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone The closing show of Turtle Lane's 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 need 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, Nazis, dumb Irish cops 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 first opened on Broadway on April 19,2001 and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. This version is directed splendidly by James Tallach who previously directed "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in February. He not only directs and blocks the show perfectly but casts the roles with topnotch performers, too. James is joined by choreographers Annita Brockney and Donald Gregorio who create some spectacular dance numbers for show, Last but not least is musical director, Wayne who not only plays the keyboards but conducts the seven piece 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 the show, the audience is sure to leave the theatre feeling " Happy and Gay". This version of the show is an absolute must see, don't miss this hilarious adventure and it is rewarded with a thunderous standing ovation at the close of the show.

James not only directs this 24 member cast but thinks up some hysterically funny moments (a blind violinist played by Kristen Nagle and a dancing gypsy in drag played by Thomas Koen) throughout the show keeping it fresh and new as well as stage managing it, too. Some of the funny posters he uses onstage in Max's office include Fifi the Attack Dog, West Wide Story, The Pope and I and A Saxophone on the Roof". The ensemble plays multiple roles in the show and do wonderful work in all of them. Donald's dances include Russian ballet, grande jete, a hora, a chorus line, samba, conga line show girls and a kick line. He also choreographed "Miss Saigon" and is an excellent dancer, too. Annita Brockney taught the excellent tap dance number in "Springtime For Hitler" and"I Wanna Be a Producer" (with Deb Poppel stealing this number as a slightly older chorus girl putting the moves on Leo) as well as the Act 1 finale of the old ladies doing a dance with their walkers. She has been tap dancing for 60 years and finally debuts as a choreographer in this show. I loved the Busby Berkley moment when the chorus forms a swastika and revolves around the stage.The incredible sets and lighting are by John MacKenzie who built a unit set for Max's office which is changed with ease during intermission as well as a huge staircase for the showgirls in "Springtime for Hitler" (the costumes for the showgirls are by Kimmerie Jones who makes the brockwurst headdress look like a phallic symbol.) He also uses several backdrops as well as slide projectors with the slides painted to look like a rooftop, an office and various other locales and are all painted by his wife, Michelle Boll, the scenic artist. The multitude of costumes are by Richard Itczak who always does an incredible job. The most outstanding ones are Roger's evening gown and tiara. The musical is set in 1959 and leading this cast of madcap and larger than life characters is Joe Berry as Max Bialystock. He is Max who is known as "The King of Broadway". But not this time because he has directed nothing but flops for quite a few years including, a musical version of "Hamlet" called "Funny Boy". The show has just closed and the crowd calls it a piece of shit. Joe's show stopping song near the end of the show, is "Betrayed" where he sings snippets of every song up to that point because Max feels that Leo has left him to rot in jail. Joe delivers a tour-de-force performance while doing it. he sits on a toilet and has a funny line about there being no toilet paper left for him to use. The song is reminiscent of "The Legacy" from "On the Twentieth Century". (Scott Giangrande plays Max at alternating performances.)While Max waits for his little old lady that he stupps before he takes her money, in walks accountant, Leo Bloom who is excellently played by Randy Elkinson. (Bob DeVivo plays Leo at alternating performances) He 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 as he sings in "We Can Do It"- Step 1 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 dollars and fly to Rio. Leo realizes his life is going nowhere as an accountant in the song "I Wanna Be a Producer'' with the top of the file cabinets opening and gorgeous chorus girls appear with one funny gal played by Deb and together with Joe 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 Joe and Randy when Leo returns to help Max at his trial. They both go to prison for five years and create a show there for the convicts called "Prisoners of Love" where they dance around in prison garb. A happy ending finds Leo and Max arm in arm as they walk off into the sunset like Rose and Louise at the end of "Gypsy" or like Georges and Albin at the end of "La Cage Aux Folles"..

They finally find an author of the worst show ever, Franz Liebkind wonderfully played by Kevin Cirone. He gets to show off his voice in Old Bavaria", "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" Hitler's supposed favorite song and "Haben Sie Geohoert Das Deustche Band?" as Franz raises his index finger, Max and Leo give him the middle finger. To betray Hitler says Franz is punishable by deas, with him dragging out the s at the end of the word.(Annita choreographs this dance with Franz slapping Leo around in it.) The barrel of the gun broke the night I saw the show and some funny and clever ad-libbing occurred from Kevin, Joe and Randy. 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 excellently with high camp by James Fitzpatrick who has a dynamite baritone voice (while wearing a hilarious evening gown and tiara as well as a long red wig looks like the Chrysler Building). His "Springtime" as Hitler is hilarious as he comes down the stairs and speaks to the audience and then confronts Stalin, Churchill and FDR while prancing around the stage. Jim and his conga line are hysterical as they each introduce themselves ( Ryan Merow is Bryan the set designer, Jonas Budris as Kevin, the costume designer, Tom Koen as Scott the choreographer who wears a bright pink spandex outfit with a constant hard on in it, and Deb Poppel as the glum lesbian lighting designer, Shirley.) Another show stealer in a show filled with show stealers is Gary Ryan as Carmen Ghia. His lavender outfit is a hoot as is his dragging out the s of his words as Leo and Max enter the apartment. Ryan and Jim's antics as this couple make for some laugh out loud moments.. Another stand out in this show is gorgeous blonde, Julie Lyon as Ulla. She is a tall statuesque brunette bombshell (who wears a platinum wig for this show) whom Max and Leo lust after. She auditions for them with a song called "If You Got It, Flaunt It" and boy has she got it! Excellent job and during the second act, she sings a tender duet with Randy called "That Face" when Leo falls in love with Ulla. They do a splendid dance during it as well as a comical bit behind the sofa coming up in different positions. A word of praise to Jonas as the leading tenor who sings "Springtime for Hitler", the most well known song in this show. The dirty old ladies are lead by Teresa Degen-Portnoy as Hold-me-touch me, who with the other old ladies do a dance with walkers that stops the show in "Along Came Bialy" as well as all the cast members on stage to end Act 1. This show is filled with show stopping moments do not walk to the box office to see "The Producers". Tell them Tony sent you.

"The Producers" (8 May - 7 June)
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617) 244-0169

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide