If you loved the Broadway production of The Producers, there's nothing not to love in the debut tour version. Sets are virtually identical, down to the little "extras" that could have been left behind when trudging across the country. The dialogue and songs are nearly line by line unaltered, and the production numbers are just as splendid as in the original. The excellent cast completes the picture. This is a tour unlike most tours in that it is essentially the Broadway version, unmodified, with a new cast in a different theatre.
Mel Brooks has adapted his 1968 film of the same name, with the help of co-librettist Thomas Meehan and choreographer Susan Stroman. Failed Broadway producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom attempt to strike it rich by running off to Rio with investors' money after over-funding a surefire flop. Nothing, of course, is surefire in a Brooks comedy, except for an avalanche of jokes (good, bad, and in between) and irreverent humor knowing no bounds. In the musical version, Brooks has changed a few characters and plot points and, of course, added many songs ("Springtime for Hitler" and "Prisoner of Love" were already in the film) with many reprises, but the core is essentially there. Along with a mix of colorful and offbeat supporting characters, Max and Leo try their best to make something good out of something bad.
Heading the tour cast as the scheming Max Bialystock is Broadway veteran Lewis J. Stadlen (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Minnie's Boys). Stadlen's trademark growly voice works very well for Max. Stadlen's Max is a bit more sympathetic and frazzled than Nathan Lane's, but Stadlen is excellent and seems to be in great shape as he handles the many demands of the role. Max's sidekick in theatrical crime, Leo Bloom, is played by Don Stephenson (By Jeeves). Leo Bloom is a very self-conscious nebbish. At first, it seems Stephenson would have trouble playing meek and mild since he is quite tall and really towers over Stadlen. But, through clever body language and posture, a whiny voice (not unlike that used by Matthew Broderick on Broadway), and perpetually rumpled hair, he nails this role. A bonus here is that Stephenson is a stunning singer. He does a wonderful job.
On press night, Lee Roy Reams was out, and understudy Kevin Ligon (Kiss Me Kate, Forbidden Broadway, Pirelli in Kennedy Center Sweeney Todd) took over as Roger De Bris. If it weren't for the slip of paper in the program you would not have guessed Ligon hadn't been playing the role for weeks; he does a terrific job. De Bris' partner, Carmen Ghia, is played by Jeff Hyslop. The role of Carmen Ghia is a real crowd pleaser. Pure drama queen, with hilarious signature gestures and expressions, Carmen is over the top, but endearingly so. Hyslop goes full tilt into this role and seems to have as much fun playing the part as the audience has when watching him. Ligon and Hyslop work very well together - a lovely couple.
The crazed German who wrote the sure-to-fail play within this show, Springtime for Hitler, is Franz Liebkind. Fred Applegate (Sound of Music, Beauty & the Beast in L.A.) is great as Franz, and he gets a huge crowd reaction for his song, "Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band?" Applegate has the right mix of humor and mania.
Angie Schworer (The Producers on Broadway) plays Ulla, the Swedish blonde bombshell with a heart of gold. Schworer does a wonderful job with her big number, "When You Got It, Flaunt It," and, though her accent comes and goes, is a gorgeous and pleasing Ulla.
The talented ensemble is busy, with each member playing multiple parts including old ladies with and without walkers, marching Nazis, and theatregoers.
The tour cast has been rehearsing for several months, and had an unusual week of "previews" before opening night, but even so, this show is so fast-paced and packed with challenges it wouldn't be surprising to see a slip, a flub, or something askew. But it runs like a well-oiled machine and offers a full evening's entertainment. Though more than a few of the jokes are a little groan-inducing, even a second visit to The Producers finds plenty to laugh about and enjoy. This is an extremely well constructed joy ride of a musical - illustrating the fact that a show can have a clever, well thought out plot and unique characters, and still be a lot of fun.
The Producers runs at the Benedum Center through October 29. For performance and ticket information, call 412-456-6666 or visit www.pgharts.org. There are tickets available.
PNC Broadway Pittsburgh presents The Producers. Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks. Scenery Design by Robin Wagner. Costume Design by William Ivey Long. Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy. Orchestrations by Doug Besterman. Conductor/Musical Director Don York. Starring Lewis J. Stadlen, Don Stephenson, Fred Applegate, Jeff Hyslop, Lee Roy Reams, Angie Schworer, Pam Bradley, Daniel Herron, Nancy Johnston, Michael Kostroff, Kevin Ligon, Jessica Sheridan.