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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


The Producers

The Producers
Jim Stanek and John Treacy Egan
If you missed The Producers in its two touring visits to Pittsburgh, fear not, for it has returned—in a fashion. Part of the CLO season, this isn't a touring production, but it looks and acts like one, which is a good thing. This is a big, sparkling, solid production taking advantage of Robin Wagner's original Broadway set design, William Ivey Long's original costume design, and Susan Stroman's direction and choreography (recreated by Bill Burns). Cop out? Not really. This is a crowd-pleasing production which should fill seats in a way that can only benefit the shows CLO offers with the kind of staging usually presented in a regional production. And, really, the glitz and Broadway-style glamour is only as good as the cast, and the CLO (and Telsey + Company) provides a combination of "imports" as well as strong contributions from the season's repertory players.

Mel Brooks created a monster, as in smash hit monster, with The Producers, along with Thomas Meehan (co-bookwriter), Glen Kelly (uncredited here, but played a very important role in getting Brooks' raw tunes into shape as music arranger and supervisor), and the above-mentioned creative team—not to mention the performing team of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick who proved to be irreplaceable on Broadway. The tour retained all these elements, save for Lane and Broderick, and (though I thought the show was nearly as good with other players) most agree that on Broadway, The Producers did not run as long as expected from its initial mega-sellout, mega-award-winning start.

Based on the 1968 film written and directed by Brooks, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the musical follows the basic storyline of two Broadway producers, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, who come up with a scheme to get rich quick by putting on a sure-flop show which has been invested at over 100%—when the show quickly closes, they will pocket the entire investment with everyone thinking all funds were lost. Of course, their plans go awry, which, along with a cast of outrageous characters, makes for ensuing whacky comedy.

John Treacy Egan is a Producers veteran, having played Max Bialystock, Roger De Bris and Franz Liebkind as a replacement on Broadway. Egan is large but agile, and he has a beautiful voice. There's a slight softening of the edge of Max as played by Egan, which doesn't make the character sympathetic—the script doesn't allow for that—but less contemptuous, and it works wonderfully. He really dominates this show, in a good way, and shows his extraordinary stamina in Max's tour de force, the 11 o'clock solo marathon number "Betrayed." Jim Stanek (who hails from the northern suburb of Cranberry) is perfectly cast as Leo Bloom, providing his own twist on the character. He sings very nicely and provides Leo with an appealing personality amidst the neuroses. The two are really a team, which makes the second act more touching: Max really seems betrayed when he finds Leo has abandoned him, and "Til Him" is a stronger song with their bond.

The other key players are a little hit and miss, with headliner (due to his boy band history) Joey Fatone giving a very spirited and heartfelt performance as Nazi composer Franz Liebkind, and Ashley Spencer continuing her CLO season as Swedish but less va-va-voomish, more demure Ulla. Just as she starts to build a real character (in spite of an unfortunate wig), and hits the big finish of her big number "When You've Got It, Flaunt It," and yells instead of belts. Stuart Marland is a very good (and Gary Beach-ish) Roger De Bris and John Walton West is a standout as Carmen Ghia; they make a lovely couple. The supporting cast and ensemble do a fine job in their roles and they deliver the extensive choreography very smoothly. All of the numbers work, with "Springtime For Hitler" the brilliant success it always is, in its expanded version from the original film.

Tom Helm and orchestra provide a lush interpretation of the score and, as always, are a big plus.

So ... would I like to see a regional company's own original staging of The Producers? Absolutely. But I understand the reasons for the CLO going this route. Am I really, really looking forward to the season-closing The Student Prince with James Brennan's (new) direction and choreography? You bet.

The Producers at the Benedum Center through July 18. For schedule and tickets, call 412-456-6666, visit http://www.pittsburghclo.org or or the Box Office at Theater Square.


Photo: Matt Polk


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-- Ann Miner

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