Monday, July 19, 2010

The Producers

‘THE PRODUCERS’ produces laughs at Beck

Mel Brooks, who co-authored the script for the musical, ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ is noted as an off-the-wall, hysterically funny film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and producer. He is one of the few artists who has received an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. Among his zany works is The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 with Carl Reiner. He was a comedy writer for Your Show of Shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Steve Allen Show. His list of movie, TV and stage shows is endless. This is one talented man.

Brook’s first feature film was the satire, The Producers, a dark comedy. Because the major production number was entitled "Springtime for Hitler," studios wouldn't touch it. He finally found an independent company which released it as an art film. It went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and became a cult hit. Brooks later turned the script into a musical, which became hugely successful on Broadway, receiving twelve Tony awards. It is this script which is now being presented at the Beck Center for the Arts.

‘THE PRODUCERS’ centers on a theatrical producer (Max Bialystock), noted for his many flops who, along with a nebbish accountant (Leo Bloom), schemes to collect an enormous amount of money, produce a flop, steal the money and fly off to Rio. Unfortunately, their ‘SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER’ becomes a hit and they wind up in trouble with the law. This is not before Bloom falls in love with the curvaceous Ulla, a group of old ladies perform a dance using walkers, a coop of pigeons do the “sieg heil,” and ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis are presented.

The musical takes much of its format and humor from the film, but deviates enough so that it becomes its own entity. It is much more upbeat and doesn’t have the flick’s darker side.

The original production opened on Broadway on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances.

Judging from the reaction of the nearly sold out Sunday matinee audience I attended, the Beck production, under the directorship of Scott Spence, delights. This, in spite of the fact, that some of the characterizations were slightly off and laugh lines were lost due to timing and nuance issues.

Mark Heffernan physically fits the role of Bialystock. He has a fine singing voice but lacks the comic timing and development of the shtick that is needed to fully flesh out the conniving producer. His “Betrayed” was well done, but “The King of Old Broadway” was emotionally flat. Brandon Isner, as Bloom, has a well-tuned singing voice but could have been more neurotic at the start so that we see a more drastic change as he “matures.” His “I Wanna Be a Producer” needed a harder sell, a more exciting presence. Both men need to grow into their roles, be more spontaneous and react, rather than act. They feign rather than are.

Betsy Kahl has the physical attributes for Ulla, but her accent keeps coming and going, especially when she is singing. Her “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” lacked the necessary overdone sexiness.

Kevin Joseph Kelly displays a big voice and personality as Roger DeBris, the fey director. His “Keep It Gay” was cleverly conceived and well done. Gilgamesh Taggett was properly overboard as Franz, the pro-Nazi. His “In Old Bavaria” was well done.

“Springtime for Hitler” should be a hysterical show stopper. As is, it was entertaining, but could have been so, so much more outlandish and fun.

The show moves quickly along, aided by well-timed set changes and May Ann Black’s nicely conceived choreography as performed by the huge but sometime laboring cast. Larry Goodpaster’s peppy orchestra does a nice job of playing and not overshadowing and drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘THE PRODUCERS’ gets lots of laughs, though it misses some others. This show should be a total romp. When the cast settles in and stops begging for laughs and lets Brook’s natural humor and ridiculousness come through, the show should be even more pleasing.