Seattle Musical Theatre Has Got It and Flaunts It With Mel Brooks' The Producers
There is no turkey, though plenty of juicy ham being served up in Seattle Musical Theatre's spirited serving of Mel Brooks' Tony-award laden Broadway musical of his classic film comedy The Producers. SMT grabbed up the Seattle rights to the show ahead of some of the bigger venues in our area, and director Bill Hamer guides his game, savvy cast ably through Brooks and Thomas Meehan's laugh-a-minute script and Brooks' musical pastiche score with high energy and an obvious fondness for all the low-brow comedy that Brooks packed into it.
The Producers (in case you've been really out of the loop) tells of an odd couple of Broadway producers: veteran hack Max Bialystock and ex-accountant Leo Bloom who aim for the sewer with a show they feel surely will flop (and net them a fortune in so doing) called Springtime for Hitler. Penned by a loony ex-Nazi playwright (who becomes their leading man), a leading lady whose assets are all in her bust-line, and directed by a legendary loser of a gay director who would make Liberace look butch, it looks like a show that will be a certain disaster. Max raises his funds by bedding a slew of rich little old ladies; the Nazi breaks a leg on opening night, leaving the director to perform the role of the Fuhrer ala Judy Garland at the palace. But ... the show is a surprise hit, and Leo and leading lady Ulla run off to Rio for romance while Max takes the fall. Ultimately, Leo's conscience (and several twists of fate that could only happen in a Mel Brooks farce) prevails, and Max and Leo are the reigning Kings of Broadway.
The shadows of original movie Max and Leo Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (as well as Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's Broadway and film remake versions) loom large over anyone who take them on, but undaunted and high-spirited, Andrew Parks (Max) and Justin Beal (Leo) go their own way and largely succeed, even if Parks seems too classy to be an ideal Max, and Beal starts out a bit too stiff, even for a character that is an accountant. The supporting cast also has large shoes (and in some cases queen-size heels) to fill, but they rise to the occasion splendidly, with Buddy Mahoney's gayer than laughter director Roger DeBris (a career high for the actor, in my book) and Doug Knoop's demented yet lovable Third Reich relic playwright Franz Liebkind the indisputable show-stealers. As va-va-voom star/personal secretary Ulla, Kat Schroeder has the perfect comic sex-appeal to strut her stuff in "When You've Got It, Flaunt It" and pairs appealingly with love interest Beal on "That Face" (a face which would be framed better without an ill-fitting and inappropriate wig). As DeBris' huffy boy-toy Friday Carmen Ghia, Ryan McCabe partners Mahoney marvelously with enough leaky sibilants escaping his pursed lips to sink the Titanic. The whole ensemble is a hoot, with a big salute to the men and woman who camp hysterically through Roger's "Keep it Gay" with (what else?) gay abandon.
Musical director Paul Linnes has done excellent work with the cast's vocals and a remarkable job getting a big, solid sound from his seven-piece band. Jennifer Littlefield achieves a sharp look in all the big Susan Stroman-inspired numbers, making a cast with obviously varied dance backgrounds look comfortable and cohesive. Carol Bronsdon's set design manages to catch all the necessary scenic elements respectably, despite obvious budgetary constraints, and his costume designs are splashy, over the top treats. And huzzah to the un-credited sound designer who achieved a good balance at the sometimes problematic Magnuson Park theatre.
Seattle Musical Theatre's future seems considerably brighter after a few iffy years of transitions. Here's hoping all its productions this season are of the same high caliber of The Producers.
The Producers at Seattle Musical Theatre (Civic Light Opera) runs weekends through October 4, Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle. Tickets at $25-$35 are available by calling 206-363-2809 or www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.