Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The closing show of the 84th season of Theatre by the Sea is the Broadway sensation “The Producers” which is based on the Mel Brooks Academy Award winning 1968 film. This bawdy musical is the story of down on his luck theatrical producer, Max Bialystock and a mousy accountant, Leo Bloom. 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 of the rise of Hitler to power in song and dance.
They are convinced they have found a show that is guaranteed to offend just about everyone. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. This musical version opened on Broadway on April 21, 2001, ran for 2502 performances and won a record setting 12 Tony Awards. This blockbuster version is directed and choreographed by Brad Musgrove who performed in and served as the dance captain for the original Broadway production and recreates all the original choreography of the show. Musical director Andrew Smithson who not only plays the lead keyboards but conducts a fantastic 10 piece orchestra. The incredible voices of the cast soar in all their numbers. This musical masterpiece is sure to offend anyone without a funny bone and bring child like glee to everyone else. To quote words from “Springtime for Hitler” the audience is sure to leave the theatre feeling “Happy and Gay.” Bill Hanney’s version of “The Producers” is the must see show of this summer season and is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call.
Brad not only blocks and directs this show splendidly but his superb dances stop the show with their intensity and execution. His direction obtains every laugh from this Mel Brooks’ hysterical dialogue in this script. His dances include Russian ballet, a hora, tap dancing par excellence, a kick line and old ladies with walkers dance that brings down the house at the end of Act 1. Andrew obtains the best vocals in the solos, duets and group numbers. The fabulous sets are by Kyle Dixon (sheer perfection in every one of them) while the multitude of gorgeous 1950’s costumes are by William Ivey Long. The show is set in 1959 and leading this cast of larger than life characters is Joel Briel in the demanding role of Max Bialystock. Max is known as the “King of Old Broadway” but not this time because he directed his latest fiasco, a musical version of “Hamlet” called “Funny Boy” which just closed on opening night. The crowd proclaims that it is a piece of shit! Joel’s opening number is “The King of Broadway” which sounds like one of Fagin’s numbers “I’m Reviewing the Situation” from “Oliver” and he and chorus do a splendid dance to it ala the “To Life” dance from “Fiddler.” Another shining moment for him is with the old ladies that he stupps in “Along Came Bialy” where he obtains money from them as they dance all around the stage with their walkers. A show stopping moment that has to be seen to be believed. Joel’s most demanding and best number is his eleventh hour number “Betrayed” where he sings and acts out snippets of every song up to this point brilliantly. Max is down in the dumps because he feels Leo has left him to rot in jail. This song is reminiscent of “The Legacy” from “On the Twentieth Century” and Joel delivers a tour-de-force performance in this role. He also does some splendid duets with Leo. His one liners are perfectly delivered to the appreciative audience.
During the start of the show when Max waits for the little old lady to stupp her in walks Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom, an accountant who has longed to be a producer for many years. Max persuades him to cook the books for him. One of the best Leo’s I have ever seen. Richard is marvelous as this nerdy character who carries a little blue blanket around ala Linus from Charlie Brown. His meltdown with the blanket is phenomenal to behold. His big number is “I Wanna Be a Producer” where he and some leggy chorus girls do a stupendous tap dance. His duets with Joel include “We Can Do It” when they decide to team up to produce a flop and again in “Where Did We Go Right” when “Springtime for Hitler” becomes a success instead of a failure. Their most sentimental number which brings tears to your eyes is “Till Him” when Leo returns from Rio, married to Ulla and attempts to set Max free at his trial. When they are locked up they write “Prisoners of Love” which Roger and Ulla sing. The ending of the show has Max and Leo walking off arm and arm into the sunset like Georges and Albin from “La Cage Aux Folles” or like Rose and Louise in “Gypsy.” Two fabulous leading men who close the 84th season on a very high note indeed.
They find the worst script around which should ensure their musical will flop when they read storm trooper Franz Liebkind’s script about Hitler. A.G. Parks is hilarious as the crazed German who wants to kill everyone in sight after they make fun of the Fuhrer in a mockery of his script. His antics with the pigeons in his coop are hilarious especially when they heil him and his awesome voice is heard in “Old Bavaria” and “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop, Hitler’s favorite song. He forces Max and Leo to wear swastikas and to perform it before signing the rights over to them. When Franz holds his index finger up, Max and Leo give him the middle finger. A.G. also sings “It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Opening Night” and then trips over a ladder, breaking his leg. Other scene stealing performers include Stuart Marland as Roger DeBris, the trey gay, cross dressing director who wears an Art Deco gown which makes him look like the Chrysler Building. He also steals the scene in “Springtime for Hitler” as well as in the conga line with his gay cohorts. This show stopping number is fabulous with Michael Perrie Jr. as set designer, Bryan with bare chest and open leather jacket, Jimmy Lewis as costume designer, Kevin, Roland Pashley Roland as choreographer, Scott who has a constant hard on sewn into his costume and Ashley Cain as the butch lighting designer, Shirley Markowicz clad in a leather jacket. He is also a hoot as he holds the curtain back when it billows out as he is playing the effeminate Hitler. The enormously talented Liam Johnson as Carmen Ghia steals many a scene with his mannerisms and stunning portrayal as Roger’s live in assistant. Liam’s mincing antics and lisp are fantastic. His dragging out of the S at the end of his words are laugh out loud moments. And when he does grand jete’s across the stage as this flamboyant character is another laugh out loud moment.
Another stand out performer is gorgeous and statuesque Sabrina Harper as the breath taking blonde bombshell, Ulla who Max and Leo lust after. She auditions for them with the song “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” and boy has she got it. Both men want Ulla to come into the office at 11 AM because this is the time Ulla wants to have sex. Her Swedish accent is flawless. In Act 2, Sabrina and Richard shine in their duet “That Face” which is a tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was where they fall in love as they dance around the stage. Sabrina is definitely the best Ulla I have ever seen. A word of praise to Andrew Tighe as the leading tenor in “Springtime for Hitler” where his voice soars off the charts.The dirty old ladies who like to get swindled out of their money for sexual favors are lead by Marie Eife as Hold Me Touch Me. She loves playing the young milk maid seducing the well hung boy who is played by Max. These old broads with some guys in drag close Act 1 with “Along Came Bialy” which is a magnificent closing as they tumble over like dominoes with their walkers. A homage to march of the Wooden Soldiers done by the Rockettes. Kudos to Bill Hanney and his entire staff for presenting this musical masterpiece to the audience. So for a phenomenal rendition of “The Producers” be sure to catch it at the historic Theatre by the Sea before the summer is over for good. Tell them Tony sent you. Looking forward to the historic theatre’s 85th Anniversary season next year with “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Mamma Mia”, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Chicago.”
THE PRODUCERS (16 August to 10 September)
Theatre by the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck, RI
1(401)782-8587 or www.theatrebythesea.com