In the Mel Brooks’ film “The Producers” and the Broadway musical which it inspired, Max Bialystock, an erstwhile top Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, a tax accountant living the kind of life Thoreau called “quiet desperation,” plan to make obscene sums of money by producing a Broadway flop. Leo and Max have theorized producing a tasteless, off-putting Broadway show will bring more income than a successful one. They read through various scripts and even come across a plot that is “too good:” “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had been transformed into a giant c**kroach,“ a nod to Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” They finally find a script which is “shocking, outrageous and insulting”—“Springtime for Hitler; a musical romp with Adolf and Eva through Berchtesgaden.”
The current production of “The Producers,” directed by Kristina Friedgen and choreographed by Stefan Sittig, is outstanding. Leo Bloom was played by Ryan Phillips, who told this reviewer he liked the nuances of Gene Wilder’s performance in the original 1968 film, but he liked the physical humor of Mathew Broderick’s performance in the 2005 Hollywood version of the musical. Mr. Phillips’ performance successfully captures the best of both portrayals.
Steve Cairns’ depiction of Max Bialystock does not remind one particularly of Zero Mostel or Nathan Lane (1968; 2005), but, within a few minutes, he makes the part his own with a flamboyant, lively, and truly enjoyable portrayal. His tour-de-force performance of “Betrayed,” essentially a reprise of the entire show, is an amazing feat to behold.
Sirena Dib’s Ulla (Bialystock and Bloom’s voluptuous Swedish secretary) exudes character in her showpiece number “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.” Franz Liebkind, the old Nazi, was played by Chad Ramsey, who had a good German accent and a marvelous time getting into his role with such performances as “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” and “Haben Sie gehört das deutsche Band?” (“Have You Ever Heard the German Band?”). The show pulls out all stops in its most notorious albeit iconic number “Springtime for Hitler,” with chorus girls wearing headdress of giant pretzels, beer, and wurst and, of course, the ubiquitous swastikas.
One of the critics whose review Bialystock reads describes his show “Springtime for Hitler” as tasteless, outrageous, and vulgar . . . “and I loved it.” The same reaction might be true of the “Producers” audience itself, with scenes such as little old ladies pounding their walkers on stage in rhythmic unison. The show is filled from beginning to end with physical humor and one liners. Potential audience members, however, should be aware that the humor is very racy and not appropriate for children. Yet “The Producers” does have an ethical dimension, as Max Bialystock brings Leo out of his shell and shows Leo that “there is a lot more to [him] than there is to [him].” In the tax accountant’s office, Leo Bloom has been treated terribly by his arrogant boss, but now he is ready to seize life – and a relationship with beautiful Ulla.
With “The Producers’” wild morality and raunchy humor, it is easy to overlook the show’s archetypical Broadway elements. Yet they are front and center and accented wonderfully in this version. Leo’s fabulous musical number of “I Wanna Be a Producer” is replete with chorus–line girls, much tap dancing, and flashy Broadway-like full strings and brass in an orchestra very full and masterfully conducted by Colin Taylor. Listen especially for Emilie Mitchell’s fabulous bongo drumming when the musical score occasionally swings into mambo and other Latin rhythms
“The Producers” has a very good sound mix, great costumes, and rather simple sets. However, the lighting is so skillfully used with different hues and colors that it more than makes up for this, notably suggesting different moods (from unhappy to delirious daydreaming) with Bloom in the accounting scene where he sings “I Wanna Be a Producer.”
“The Producers” is a funny, exciting, and over-the-top show, yet paying tribute to classic Broadway at the same time.
Advisory: Adult humor and content.
Running Time: Approximately three hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
The Producers plays through August 17, 2019, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the LTA Box Office at 703-683-0496 or go online.