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‘The Producers’ — Broadway’s equal opportunity insulter

Posted: September 30th, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater Reviews | No Comments

By Charlene Baldridge

Check it out. It’s all there — sets, costumes, lights, 19-piece orchestra, and an enormous cadre of actors (23) working very hard at the Spreckels Theatre through Oct. 9.

It’s San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s 2001 Broadway hit, “The Producers,” in its San Diego regional premiere, not to be confused with touring productions of the show that hit town earlier under the aegis of Broadway San Diego.

The musical has visual, verbal and musical insults for all — Jews, gays, lesbians, little old ladies, critics, theatergoers, and all kinds of theater types — including the titular producers, Max Bialystock (John Massey) and Leo Bloom (Bryan Banville), who are an unlikely match.

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(left) John Massey (as Max Bialystock) and Bryan Banville (as Leo Bloom) in Mel Brooks’ Broadway hit “The Producers,” now at San Diego Musical Theatre (Photo courtesy SDMT)

The avaricious Bialystock has just endured the most recent in a string of Broadway failures. The totally naive Bloom, who still carries a tattered remnant of his baby blanket for comfort, appears from an accounting firm to do the books and suggests, half jokingly, that Bialystock could make more money with a failure than with a success, and he could cook the books so no one would be the wiser.

Accordingly they locate the worst musical ever written — “Springtime for Hitler” — guaranteed to flop; hire the worst director and choreographer; cast the most inept singers/dancers/actors; and go into rehearsal. As an added catastrophe — the “Springtime” leading man, who plays Hitler, breaks his leg just before opening night curtain, adding further assurance that the show will flop. Instead, it is declared a satirical wonder and the show is a runaway hit. This sets in motion all kinds of legal proceedings and discovery of the scam, threatening to send Max and Leo to prison for a long time.

Along the way, we meet Max and Leo’s author (Franz Liebkind, played by Lance Carter) and director (Roger DeBris, played by Russell Garrett) and his ever so flaming major domo (Carmen Ghia, played Luke Harvey Jacobs), as well as Ulla, Max and Leo’s Swedish bombshell, hired for both show and office, played by Siri Hafso.

And did I mention Brooks’ music and lyrics are catchy and singable, and that Musical Director Don Le Master fields a fine orchestra and keeps the pace from flagging.

Massey is a corpulent man and Bialystock keeps active by schtupping all the little old ladies, from whom he gets checks to underwrite his shows. Nonetheless, despite his size, sweat and scheming, he is likeable, certainly a requirement for enjoyment of the show. Banville has a lovely, well-employed light voice and plays the innocent very well, especially in his love scenes with Ulla. One of the best, most awful scenes in the show involves the chorus of little old ladies performing a tap number with their walkers as additional percussion.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-8-45-57-amDirector Jamie Torcellini imbues each company member with character and a certain left-handed pizzazz, and Beth Connelly’s costumes, especially for the “Springtime” parade of beauties, are wonderfully witty. Christopher Murillo’s sets are adequate to the task though a bit shaky. The show features lighting by Michael Van Hoffman, sound by Kevin Anthenill, and choreography by Janet Renslow.

As usual, this listener went home singing “Springtime for Hitler.” With its insult quotient, “The Producers” may be said to have paved the way for a certain American political candidate.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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