Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Producers

Mike Mechanick as Max Bialystock, left, an the unscrupulous Broadway producer,
and Andy Hyun as Leo Bloom, his accountant and producing partner,
ogle their new secretary/receptionist, Ulla (Jessica Arena). Courtesy photo 

“The Producers,” now playing at Davis Musical Theater Company is a musical adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks' 1968 film of the same name, with lyrics written by Brooks and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman.

The original Broadway production opened on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. It spawned a successful London production running for just over two years, national tours in the US and UK, many productions worldwide and a 2005 film version.

“The Producers” is a fast-paced laugh from start to finish, with enough material to offend just about everyone, from Jews, to Nazis, to old ladies, to gays, to dumb blondes, to corporate drones and just about anyone in between.  As with most Mel Brooks scripts, it’s all done with such a sense of fun that you’re amazed at the things that make you laugh.  The musical is much lighter than the darker comedy movie on which it is based.

The story centers around Max Bialystock, a formerly successful producer who now can’t get a hit to save his soul and who has become famous for his flops.  Michael Mechanick must have been channeling Nathan Lane in spots in this production.  His performance is very strong and not quite over the top, but just outrageous enough and oh so funny,

Into Max’s office walks mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun), who carries a strip of his baby blanket around in his pocket to soothe himself in times of stress.  Bloom discovers that it’s possible for a producer to make more money with a flop show than with a hit, if they play it right.  Hyun, who played this role in DMTC’s 2010 production,  makes a perfect Bloom, with the wide eyed innocence of a man who can be perfectly molded by the likes of Max Bialystock.

The team of Bialystock and Bloom is born.

They need the worst play in the world, the worst director in the world, a bunch of gullible horny old ladies as backers, and when the show fails, as it is destined to do, Bialystock and Bloom will be off with their millions to sun themselves on the beach in Rio de Janeiro.

The first thing to do is to find the worst show every written and in Franz Leibkind’s “Springtime for Hitler,” they feel they have found a real loser.  Certain to offend everyone.  A visit to Leibkind (Travis Negler) involves the dance “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop,” but eventually the contract is signed.

Negler is a big, not too bright, Nazi leftover, whose passion is his carrier pigeons and whose love for “der Fuhrer” is still very strong.

Next they need to find the worst director on Broadway and Max knows just the person...the very gay Roger De Bris (T. Patrick Van), who appears dressed as the Chrysler Building, on his way to a costume party.  Van is perfectly campy, as is his “associate,” Carmen Ghia (Josh Smith), who can drag out an exit better than most.

Max’s rather unorthodox way of raising funds is to jolly little old ladies into giving him checks. Mary Young plays the aggressive “Hold-me, Touch-me” and is hilarious.  And perhaps my favorite number of the whole show is “Along Came Bialy,” a dance number performed by a host of little old ladies on walkers.  Local senior centers, take note at what may be possible with the assistance of a choreographer as wonderful as Ron Cisneros.

Jessica Arena plays Ulla, the hypersexual Swedish actress wannabe who works as a secretary for Bialystock and Bloom until she can go into rehearsals for the musical. Arena lays it on thick, the term “lay” perhaps the operative word here! She’s very funny.

One always wishes for a bigger budget for DMTC so that the quality of its sets can match the quality of the performances.  Steve Isaacson’s set design is fine and the tech crew and actors move the big set pieces around beautifully integrated into the action of the show, but I always think of how much better it would be with a bigger, splashier set.

Unlike the 2010 production, the DMTC orchestra worked well, easy to be heard from their underground cave yet not overpowering the singers on the stage.  DMTC has finally discovered the perfect marriage of instrumental music to vocal music.

“The Producers” is fun from start to finish.

Take note, after 30+ years of start times at 8:15, DMTC is now starting its shows at 8 p.m.  Don’t be like the critic, who showed up 7 minutes late.

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