THE ENDURING CHARM, TO LOVE A NAZI - MEL BROOKS OPENS BROADWAY BY THE BAY’S 52ND SEASON
“DON’T BE STUPID, BE A SMARTY, COME AND JOIN THE NAZI PARTY” MEL BROOKS HYSTERICAL PITCH.
THE PRODUCERS IS HYSTERICAL PROOF FUN
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. The SF Bay’s first rate musical company BBB does not disappoint, director Jasen Jeffrey and his creative team pull off the funny to perfection. THE PRODUCERS is now on stage at the Fox Theatre through April 2nd, as “Broadway by The Bay” begins its 52nd season of award winning musical theatre. 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.
Dynamite director Jeffrey says “What I love about Mel Brooks is that he is honest about who his characters are - the good, the bad, the eccentric, all of it, - He is unafraid to place them in the most absurd of situations and let us revel in the hilarity that ensues.” Jeffrey continues, “THE PRODUCERS is a perfect blend of wickedly smart comedy, stunning choreography, rousing orchestrations and all the glitz and glamour you could ask for. It allows us all to escape into an evening filled with laughter and joy. There’s nothing better.”
The 1968 cult classic film turned musical focuses on Max Bialystock, a flop-ridden Broadway producer and Leo Bloom, a nervous accountant, who team up to fraud investors and make a fortune by producing the worst musical in history, a love letter to Hitler written by an unhinged former Nazi. It’s a silly story, but as Brooks makes clear, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the story, as long as you give the audience a little T and A and big neon lights. To "The Producers" excellent humor and timing, this story makes up for what it lacks by shamelessly upping the camp, slapstick humor.
This cast does not fail, the leads are talented and honor Brooks’ very humorous take of Broadway and the amusing ride of a musical. Max and Leo take their chorus of horny investors, cute old ladies for millions while a dancing Hitler steals the show. The cast headed by the very entertaining and savvy Marcus Kilnger as Max Bialystock opens the show with the very fun “The King of Broadway. Jeffrey has added a talented on stage blind violin player played by the accomplished Christina Owens, who joins the cast from time to time to add to the laughter.
As the two buddies search for their playwright they meet Franz Liebkind, in the shadow of his hero, Hitler; David Schiller is excellent as the German eccentric. Schiller’s insane Nazi playwright steals the show when he sings “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” and “Old Bavaria” with Max and Bloom along with the chorus of scene stealing swastika pigeons. Brooks’ films and musicals never leave any joke or ethnic group unturned or unmentioned including the Irish and gay topics.
One of the very hilarious scenes features Klinger and Lopez pitching the show to their Queen of Broadway director, Roger Debris, played by the brilliant Eric Johnson; perfect in drag. Roger’s camp, flamboyant assistant Carmen Ghia is perfectly performed every “Ssssss” by the superb Alex Rodriguez. There are show stoppers all along the way 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 a posse of silly campy actors playing Debris’ wacky staff, Jay Thulien, Efrain Lazcano-Ibarra, Derrick Contreras, Jennifer Haber and Joshua Lau. The wonderful Jocelyn Pickett is the blond bombshell Ula, who wins over both Max and Bloom, and seduces Bloom and the blue blankie becomes a man. Dialect coach Kim Conkle keeps Pickett’s Swedish droll pitch perfect funny.
Kilnger 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 Robert Lopez 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. Lopez is charming and amusing in “I Wanna Be a Producer.” The set in his accounting office is clever as the accountants desks morph into showgirls for Leo’s top hat and cane solo. The set design by the award winning Kelly James Tighe tops itself for each major dance number, especially the “Springtime for Hitler” gala opening. Aaron Spivey’s clever lighting design with added light touch of fog to keep each scene rich with mood and depth.
The ensemble cast is superb in “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in the Berchtesgaden”. - choreographed by the skillful Nicole Helfer - she kept the entire cast busy and brought Susan Stroman’s vision to life on the Fox stage. Sound designer Jon Hayward 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 Leandra Watson and Alexandra Hagman are especially clever as the show girls shine in their sausage gowns and stroodle dresses. The tap dancing Nazis headed by dance captain, Amanda Farbstein, and talented tenor, Jay Thulien, who opens the number for Eric Johnson’s singing Hitler.
Masterful music director Sean Kana keeps the large cast on cue, and his 22 sizzling piece orchestra never overpowered the cast. The sets designer Tighe has a large space to fill for this show, and it is not always easy, but he did make fine use of the upper part of the stage. The Broadway drop banners are well crafted with Kevin August Landesman’s projections and his Broadway runway of lights that surround his stunning design.
This is a huge musical, so Jeffrey and Helfer go big with campy classic dance numbers including “Along Came Bialy” with Max and his little old ladies and their walkers. “I Want To Be A Producer” featuring Lopez and the ensemble is a charmer and sets the tone for well produced dance numbers. Justin Halsey-Martin’s many eye catching props are detailed especially in Max’s office and all the great shtick for the Nazi glamour and the clever chorus of nazi pigeons.
The talented ensemble is one of the strengths of this production. The depth of talent on display is awesome. I want to mention the smaller roles that are all impressive. Dance Captain Farbstein showcases a tremendous German nazi march scene in a marvelous dance extravaganza during the musical within the musical. Chelsea Holifield and Amanda Farbstein are both effervescent in several small roles, most memorably as one of Bialystock’s little old lady investors Lick Me Bite Me and Kiss Me Feel Me. The energetic Joshua Lau’s, high kick dance is bright and funny every time he appears on stage. Shawn Bender, Chris Lewis, Jason Mooney and Christina Owens as the very over the top Irish cops are slapstick funny. The rest of the ensemble is filled with a veritable showcase of inspiring local talent.
Jeffrey’s direction is busy and full throttle, he uses the entire Fox stage to recreate a Broadway look and the design for the main office is full of theatre tidbits. A good portion of the show takes place in Max’s office that is set up stage. It is also humorous when Brooks’ script makes reference to stage direction, he has the actors continue to break the fourth wall. The story line 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 stage to get some snacks as he cleans up from the last scene. It is very witty and never lets us forget that we are watching a musical about a musical.
Alicia Jeffrey, Executive Artistic Director, says “Broadway By the Bay continues our 52 year legacy of bringing the highest caliber of musical theatre to the Peninsula community, and THE PRODUCERS is certainly no exception - It’s the perfect time to open our season with a huge musical comedy, and none is more flawlessly constructed than THE PRODUCERS.” Fans of Mel Brooks have always cherished his irreverent insane Jewish humor. The company at BBB has “the funny” just right and it is a sure priceless evening of crazy good biting fun by a large and enthusiastic ensemble. As I mentioned you even hear Mel Brooks 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 the Broadway sunset, and you should as well. THE PRODUCERS is the perfect hit to bring in spring 2017 and the 52nd season of Broadway By the Bay. Next up is the Jukebox favorite SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE that opens June 12th.
Broadway By The Bay Presents
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
DIRECTED BY JASEN JEFFREY, MUSIC DIRECTOR SEAN KANA
CHOREOGRAPHER NICOLE HELFER
Now thru April 2nd
2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City Ca 94063
Two hours and 45 minutes
Discount tickets at Goldstar.com and https://www.todaytix.com/
Photos courtesy of Mark & Tracy Photography
Videos produced by Tracy Martin