Mel Brook’s outrageous musical comedy
THE PRODUCERS is Superb Fun
“Don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party”. Mel Brooks Hysterical pitch proves to be a lively welcome in the Oakland Hills.
I first saw Mel Brooks hilarious THE PRODUCERS in Los Angeles with Jason Alexander and the great Martin Short, it blew me away. Especially Martin Short as Bloom, it was like seeing Gene Wilder wet his pants for his baby blue blanket. I was not expecting much from the Oakland Hills company at Woodminster Summer Musicals, but director Joel Schlader and his leads pulled off the "funny" to perfection. With a book by Thomas Meehan and music by Mel Brooks THE PRODUCERS earned 12 Tonys in 2001, and went on to be a successful movie musical with the original Broadway leads Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Woodminster Managing Director Harriet Schlader, commented on the issue that this is more of an adult themed show, "Audiences have told us they'd enjoy seeing shows that are more adult-oriented, and THE PRODUCERS certainly fits that bill.."
This cast does not disappoint, the leads are talented and honor Brooks very humorous take of broadway and the ride of a musical. The story is about a show producer and his accountant, set out to stage the bomb of the century. They find the worst musical ever and team one of the Broadways failing queens to direct. The two take their chorus of horny investor cute old ladies for millions, while a dancing Hitler steals the show. I love the fact that Schlader cast some older women to play the chorus of seniors with their walkers. On broadway mostly chorus guys did the number dressed as little old ladies, but on the Oakland stage most are for real. “Little old Lady Land” is one of the highlights of the first act, and a couple of drag grannies do make an apperance.
The cast headed by the very entertaining Greg Carlson as Max Bialystock opens the show with the very fun “The King of Broadway”. Carlson carries this show with perfect comic timing and over the top camp.. His partner and accountant is the very sweet and enduring neurotic Leo Bloom played by local favorite John Tichenor, who will bring you to tears of giggles with his blue Blankie. “I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical!” is the classic line from the original Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder movie that set the “vaudeville like” opening scene when Leo and Max meet. The two sing “We Can Do it” and set the comic pace for the show. Tichenor is charming and amusing in “I Wanna Be a Producer” set in his accounting office is clever as the filing cabinets morph into showgirls for Leo’s top hat and cane solo.
As the two search for their playwright they meet Franz Liebkind, in the shadow of his hero Hitler, Edward Hightower is excellent. Hightowers insane Nazi playwright steals the show when he sings “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” and “Old Bavaria” with Max and Bloom and the chorus of Swastika Pigeons. Hightower is a welcome talent to Woodminsters zany tale of siging Nazis and talking Pigeons.
Brooks films and musicals never leave any joke unturned or group unmentioned. The very hilarious scene as the two pitch the show their Queen of Broadway director Roger Debris played by the brilliant Calvin Smith, perfect in drag. Rogers camp flamboyant assistant Carmen Ghia is perfectly performed every “Ssssss” by Nick Nakashima. There are show stoppers all along the way till we meet the Nazi spectacular “Springtime for Hitler”. But “Keep it Gay’ featuring Roger Debris and his camp production team, is truly one of the highlights of this 2.5 hour musical. Featuring Woodminster regulars, Jonathan Miller, Sam Leeper, Rod Votaire Edora, Madison Wells, and toppless Jose Gonzalez. Melissa Reinerston is the blond bombshell Ula, who wins over both Max and Bloom, and seduces Bloom’s and the blue blankie becomes a man.
The ensemble cast is superb in “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in the Berchtesgaden”. - choreographed by Erica Hartano - she kept the entire cast busy and brought Susan Stroman vision to life on the Oakland stage. Sound designer Carole Davis added Mel Brooks original line from the film “Don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party” is lip sync by one of the male chorus. Costumes by Lisa M Danz are especially clever as the show girls shine in their sausage gowns and stroodle dresses. The tap dancing Nazi’s headed by Oscar Tsukayama, and talented tenor Sean McGrory who opens number for Calvin Smith singing Hitler. Music director Daniel Thomas keeps the large cast on cue, and his 13 piece orchestra never overpowered the cast. The sets are always an issue for me at the Woodminster stage, designer Patrick Toebe has a large space to fill for his shows, and it is not always easy, but he did make use of the upper part of the stage, yet some his backgrounds and lighting banners missed the mark.
Schladers direction is busy, I would have like to see the main leads work more down stage. Much of the office action is lost upstage buried in some of the awkwards sets. A good portion of the show takes place in Max’s office that is set up stage. It is also humours when Brooks makes references to stage direction, he has the actors continue to break the fourth wall. Brooks story takes a slap at the theatre and it is very amusing. In the final act Max re-enacts the entire show while he is in jail, breaking the fourth wall and leaving the set to get some snacks at the concession window off stage. Its very funny and never lets us forget that we are watching a musical about a musical.
Fans of Mel Brooks have always cherished his irreverent insane jewish humor - The company at Woodminster has “the funny” just right and it is a sure priceless evening of crazy good biting fun. As I mentioned you even hear Mel Brooks voice in the sound design. The show ends with a comical second musical set in a prison, and you do not want this show to end. Leo and Max walk off into Broadway sunset, and you should as well. THE PRODUCERS is a Hit!!
PRESENTED BY WOODMINSTER SUMMER MUSICALS
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
DIRECTED BY JOEL SCHLADER, MUSIC DIRECTOR DANIEL THOMAS
Now thru August 16
Photos courtesy of Kathy Kahn