Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Producers (Playhouse Square Center)

‘THE PRODUCERS’ produces laughs once again!

Britain’s Prince Harry has been getting bad press for his wearing a Nazi swastika arm band to a costume party. Ironically, comedian and writer Mel Brooks has received raves for his displaying swastikas in his musical ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ THE NEW MEL BROOKS MUSICAL.’ The difference? Harry was oblivious to the reaction his unthoughtful act would evoke. Brooks, on the other hand, knew that by mocking Hitler and about every other group including gays, Jews, Swedes, old ladies, World War II vets, hillbillies, blacks, and the Irish, he’d start a riot. In his case, a laugh riot.

‘THE PRODUCERS THE NEW MEL BROOKS MUSICAL’ is the most awarded show in Broadway history. It won a record 12 Tony Awards and 11 Drama Desk Awards, and is still playing to sold out houses in The Big Apple. Clevelanders loved the show when it played in Play House Square in 2002. It is back for an abbreviated visit (January 18-23) before this professional touring company calls it quits.

From exit comments it became apparent that the audience on opening night loved the production. What is not to like? There are a chorus line of old ladies dancing with walkers, flapping pigeons singing backup, and a chorus line of convicts. This is funny stuff concocted in the mind of a genius comedic madman.

The musical is based on Brooks’ Academy Award winning 1968 film, THE PRODUCERS. It centers on the fortunes of Max Bialystock, an unsuccessful theatrical producer, and Leo Bloom, a nebbish accountant. They dream-up a scheme to raise money, produce the world’s worst musical staged by the world’s worst director, close the show quickly, and run off with the profits. The problem? Their choice, "Springtime for Hitler" turns out to be a smash hit and they wind up going to jail. "Springtime for Hitler?" That title’s offensive! Well, the entire production can be offensive if you don’t have a sense of humor.

After having been sold amateur productions as being professional (e.g., the recent embarrassing ‘OLIVER’), some people in the area are suspicious of Play House Square offerings. Be assured, this was not a "second rate" tour. Lewis Stadlen was a delight in the role created by Nathan Lane in New York. Hunter Foster, who recently joined the cast, is not the quality of Mathew Broederick (who will play the role in the forthcoming film version along with Lane) or Don Stephenson who played the part in the former Cleveland showing, but he was adequate as Leo Bloom, the nebbish who wants to “be a producer.” The rest of the cast is excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ THE NEW MEL BROOKS MUSICAL’ is fun. There won’t be another first-line professional tour so if you want to see a legit production, and aren’t planning on going to New York, this is it!