KPBS AIRDATE: January 10, 2003
It’s ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and fun-time for San Diego. “The Producers” is here to tickle your funny bone and raise your P.C. hackles. Punch-drunk pot-shots are taken at Jews, blacks, old folks, actors, producers, accountants, even Swedes. If you thought the 1967 movie was lunacy at large, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The inspired insanity of first-time musical theater creator/composer Mel Brooks is only heightened by the brilliant direction and choreography of the justly-acclaimed Susan Stroman. There is no pun too base and no top too high to go over. Brooks and Stroman use every shtick in the book, from the Borscht Belt and beyond. The show garnered the most Tony Awards in history and it’s still a hot ticket in New York. Of course, the movie shoes of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are pretty hard to fill. Personally, I don’t think anyone can do it. But in each incarnation of the delirious, frenzied piece, another Herculean effort is made. On Broadway, of course, there was Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. In L.A., they’ll get Jason Alexander and Martin Short. And here, in the first touring production, we see Lewis J. Stadlen and Don Stephenson as that lovable loser of a producer, Max Bialystock, and his blankie-holding milquetoast of an accountant, Leopold Bloom. They’re spirited and talented. they do everything in their power to entertain and amuse. Stephenson is adorably Broderick-like, with a bit of a whine and a cuteness that’s hard to resist. Stadlen is high octane and has all those vaudeville moves, but he often seems to be singing below his musical range, and he isn’t always the show-stealing show-stopper he needs to be. The ultra-long pauses and slo-mo double-takes don’t help.
Still, there’s so much fun to be had, what with the Seig-Heil pigeons, the gorgeous, goose-stepping chorines, the Old Ladies dancing-with-walkers, that you lose yourself completely in its totally irresistible silliness. The story, as you may know, is that Max and Leo cook up a cockamamie scheme that if they raise a couple of million and produce a sure-fire flop on Broadway, they can take the money and run. They seek out the worst play, playwright, actors and director they can find, and then, lo and behold!, the show becomes a major hit… and they’re socked in jail, making SingSing musicals. The hilarious homage and spoof of every musical ever made is unequivocally side-splitting. The enormous, elaborate, boffo title number of “Springtime for Hitler’ is itself worth the price of admission. Busby Berkley does the Third Reich? You’ve just gotta have an open mind; if nothing here strikes you as funny, you’re positively humor-impaired. Right now, we could all use a light, frothy laugh at ourselves and all our sacred cows. And Mel Brooks is just the meshugenah to deliver.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
>©2003 Patté Productions Inc.