Published in Gay and Lesbian Times January 09, 2003
Okay, here’s a Musical Theater Queen Trivia Quiz. Ready?
Who mounted “Maim,” “Katz,” “High Button Jews,” “A Streetcar Named Murray” and “She Shtupps to Conquer?” Give up? Or was that too easy? The answer, of course, is “The Producers,” Bialystock and Bloom, after their runaway hit, “Springtime for Hitler.” There was a little digression while they did some time in SingSing, but that gave them the opportunity to create and refine their next big hit, “Prisoners of Love.”
If you missed it in New York, and you don’t want to wait till Springtime in L.A. (with Jason Alexander and Martin Short), get a load of “The Producers” right now, right here, while the touring company is in town. It’s everything you remember from the beloved 1967 cult movie… and more. Also, alas, less. Without Zero Mostel, it just isn’t the same. (All right, some of you probably LOVE Nathan Lane… but he’s no Zero in my book. Actually, I could easily envision that maniac meshuggenah Mel Brooks doing it himself — if only he were several decades younger and could survive the lunacy of the manic musical he created).
Gene Wilder was incredible in the film as that blankie-hugging, milquetoast accountant, Leopold Bloom. The role was surprisingly well served by Matthew Broderick on Broadway and now on tour with the adorably irresistible Don Stephenson. It’s the Max Bialystock role that’s a killer, and though Lewis J. Stadlen has the requisite energy, agility, lunacy and Borscht Belt pedigree, there’s some level of visceral spontaneity missing, and that keeps him from being the show-stopper he needs to be. He often seems to be singing and speaking at the bottom of his vocal range, and several knockout lines are lost in the ether. And all those annoyingly extended pauses and slo-mo double-takes make the humor feel contrived rather than organic.
Lee Roy Reams is less outrageous than one might hope as the disastrous, drag-queen director Roger De Bris, but Michael Paternostro is hilariously hip-swiveling as his assistant, Carmen Ghia. Angie Schworer (who played the role on Broadway) is a Swedish laugh-fest (if that isn’t an oxymoron) as the voluptuous Scandinavian secretary, Ulla. Fred Applegate is funny as Franz Liebkind, the mad, Nazi playwright of the hopelessly horrible “Springtime for Hitler,” and the title number of that can’t-miss-being-a-flop surprise hit is well worth the price of admission. It was Leo (the wanna producer) who cooked up the cockamamie scheme that if they raised a lot of cash for a sure-fire flop on Broadway, they could then take the money and run.
In the musical, as compared to the film, Leo is more multi-dimensional and the guys’ friendship is nicely fleshed out. In this first touring production, all stops have been pulled out, and it’s just as extravagant as you’d hope — and more than you’d expect from a road-show. All the musical numbers are fabulous, as is Susan Stroman’s justly-acclaimed direction and choreography. There is so much hilarity in the Seig-Heil pigeons, the gorgeous, goose-stepping chorines, the Old Ladies dancing-with-walkers, that you lose yourself completely in the incessant silliness.
Brooks leaves no societal segment un-attacked. Punch-drunk pot-shots are taken at Jews, blacks, seniors, actors, producers, accountants and Swedes. This is the strongest statement ever against Political Correctness; relish it while you can. Even if it’s a little soft in the center (no small disappointment) the show is strong in all the other places and remains, imperviously, thoroughly entertaining.
Now, the new theater game is… guessing which will be Brooks’ next movie-to-musical: “Young Frankenstein” or “Blazing Saddles?” Will it be the Monster Mash or the Bean Bash? You’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, revel in “The Producers.”
“The Producers” runs through the weekend at the Civic Theatre. Some tickets are still available; 619-570-1100.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.