By Manning Harris
When the musical version of Mel Brooks’ 1968 cult film comedy “The Producers” opened on Broadway in April 2001, you’d have thought it was the Second Coming, with added sequins and lamé. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley said the show was “sublimely ridiculous” and “so ecstatically drunk on its own powers to entertain that it leaves you delirious.”
It immediately became the hottest ticket in town since “A Chorus Line,” and people camped outside the theatre hoping for cancellations. Oh, yes, “The Producers” won a record 12 Tony Awards, including, of course, Best Musical.
Well, now you can see the Theater of the Stars version at the Fox through January 31. It is pure, gorgeous entertainment, and seats are available! You won’t see original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but you’ll get to see hometown-boy-made-good Stacey Todd Holt (born and raised in Fairburn, a graduate of Doris Roberts’ Dance School and a proud graduate of Woodward Academy, class of ’85) as Leo Bloom (the Broderick role); I’m happy to report that he’s terrific. Mr. Holt was in the Broadway company for six years, and was Broderick’s stand-in for the film version.
Bialystock and Bloom—if those names don’t register with you, you’re not a theatre geek yet; we’ll fix that. Max Bialystock (Michael McCormick) is a Broadway impresario who’s having a losing streak: The show opens with yet another Bialystock flop, and Max laments that he used to be “The King of Broadway.” Fate intervenes, and Max meets Leo, an unhappy, nerdy accountant so anxious that he carries a security blanket. Leo just happens to observe that if Max got backers to invest in a surefire flop, he would still profit—handsomely. As in several million dollars.
In addition, we learn that meek, mild Leo has long nursed a secret ambition: “I Wanna Be a Producer.” A delightful partnership is formed; and more important, a friendship. By the way, the book is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan; Mr. Brooks, surprising many, wrote both music and lyrics.
As you may know, there is something here to offend almost everybody; but herein lies Mr. Brooks’ genius: He’s so completely over-the-top and outrageous in his nonstop spoofs, references, and sight gags, that he effectively de-fangs himself, and you find yourself reduced to helpless laughter.
A perfect example of this talent is his choice of the worst play possible: a musical paean to the Third Reich called “Springtime for Hitler,” written by Franz Liebkind (Tom Robbins) and directed by a supremely arch theatre queen par excellence, Roger DeBris (Gary Beach, re-creating his original Broadway role). How could such a hideous, offensive play succeed? Max is gleefully sure it will close the first night—if indeed it makes it through one performance.
Max has collected money from his backers by trading sexual favors with very wealthy, geriatric, lonely women. You read that correctly. And you haven’t lived until you see these women cut loose with a musical number using their walkers as dance partners.
Meanwhile, Leo has been swept off his feet by the svelte, statuesque, seductive Ulla (Lara Siebert), Max and Leo’s astoundingly beautiful Swedish assistant (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”).
You’ve probably guessed that, against all odds, the show is a smash! Oops—more problems for Max and Leo—big time.
Mr. McCormick and Mr. Holt are outstanding singing actors; they even make you forget—and I saw them—Lane and Broderick. Patrick Boyd (Carmen Ghia) and the entire huge cast are first rate.
Original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; direction here is by Bill Burns; choreography re-created by Jennifer Lee Crowl. Oh—a shout-out to hometown kid Greg Bosworth.
Put a smile on your face and head for the Fox—I wish the company were here longer.
For more information, visit theaterofthestars.com.