Regional Reviews: Seattle
You'll Wanna See The Producers
Also see David's review of Kristin Chenoweth
It took Village Theatre awhile to get around to staging Mel Brooks' smash, Tony-winning The Producers, but as they say, all good things are worth waiting for, and this Steve Tomkins directed version, perhaps his best work ever, is a very, very good thing! Cast impeccably, choreographed with giddy glee and gaudy grace by Kristin Holland Bohr, with masterful musical direction by maestros Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe, Village closes its 2011-2012 season with a generous serving of high-camp hilarity, which compares most favorably to (and in some ways tops) the Broadway original.
Patterned faithfully, if not slavishly, on his cult-classic Zero Mostel/Gene Wilder starred film, Mel Brooks' stage version, with book co-written by Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Brooks, follows the exploits of Broadway's biggest loser producer Max Bialystock, who teams with meek accountant turned neophyte producer Leo Bloom, to produce a guaranteed Broadway musical bomb, Springtime for Hitler. Written by a neo-Nazi, directed by a mega-swishy Broadway director (who ends up as the show's Hitler), and co-starring their own blonde Swedish bombshell secretary Ulla, the producing pair plan on reaping the rewards of scamming little old lady investors and collecting royally on the over-budgeted sure to shutter swiftly show. Except ... it doesn't. Leo and Ulla hightail it to Rio, leaving a chagrined Max to face the music and the authorities. But the Brooksian ending is a happy, whacky ending for all.
The conniving Max is played with sharp comic flair and just a smidge of sympathetic underpinning by the amazing Richard Gray, long one of Seattle's brightest talents. Gray meets the challenge of erasing the shadows of Mostel and Broadway's Nathan Lane's bravura performances, while honoring them. The big act two "Betrayed" is as close as there is to a male "Rose's Turn," and Gray gives it all the gusto one could ask for. He also shares center stage generously with Brian Earp's boyishly beguiling Leo Bloom. Though no stage Bloom can quite equal the underrated genius of Gene Wilder's film Bloom, Earp is as good a stage Bloom as I have yet seen, and in fact superior to the overrated Matthew Broderick in the original Broadway cast and film remake. Earp, a recent college grad, heads up the "I Wanna Be a Producer" production number with panache, pairs effortlessly with Gray on "We Can Do It," and perfectly partners engaging and ideally cast Jessica Skerritt's Ulla in "That Face." Speaking of the beautiful and slyly comedic Skerritt, she comes on late in act one looking like a million bucks with the mock-sexy "If You've Got It, Flaunt It" and delights in her dialogue scenes as well.
In the show-stealing role of gayer than laughter director Roger Debris, Nick DeSantis creates laughs that cascade over the footlights like the great floods of yore. You may think you have reached laughter overload watching him lead the whopping act one showpiece "Keep It Gay," but he tops himself among a stageful of talents in the "Springtime For Hitler" sequence in act two. Debris' aide de camp love interest Carman Ghia is essayed with appealingly arch abandon by Chris Ensweiler, and Hitler-idolizing playwright Franz Liebkind is played by expert comic actor David Anthony Lewis, who manages to make the character both hilarious and border-line terrifying.
Other great show-offs in the company are Aaron Shanks, goose-stepping his way to glory as the toothy Aryan tenor headliner in "Springtime for Hitler," Abby Duke Pollard as the diminutive horny old lady Hold Me-Touch Me, as well as Matt Wolfe, Matt Wade, Kathryn Van Meter, Cameron Lewis and Casey Craig in multiple roles.
The production features an excellent lighting design by Aaron Copp, while the smashing sets and classy costumes are rentals, but showing no sign of wear and tear. The larger than usual orchestra sounds smashing, and sound designer Brent Warwick assures that nary a lyric is missed.
The Producers is a spring tonic of uncommon, unabashedly broad good cheer that might be just the pick me up you're looking for!
The Producers runs through July 1 at Village Theatre in Issaquah and then moves over to their Everett location running July 6th through the 29th. For tickets or information contact the Village Theatre box office at 425-392-2202 in Issaquah or 425-257-8600 in Everett or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.
- David Edward Hughes