Theatre Review: ‘The Producers’ at Atlanta Lyric

The Producers (Courtesy of Atlanta Lyric Theatre)
The Producers (Courtesy of Atlanta Lyric Theatre)

By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

When the musical version of Mel Brooks’ 1968 cult film comedy “The Producers” opened on Broadway in 2001, you couldn’t get a ticket if you sold your grandmother—and people tried. The New York Times said the show was “sublimely ridiculous” and “so ecstatically drunk on its powers to entertain that it leaves you delirious.”

Stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick became the hottest couple in show business; “The Producers” won a record 12 Tony Awards, including, of course, Best Musical.

If you missed it on Broadway—or the late, lamented Theater of the Stars’ production in January at the Fox—or even if you didn’t, you can catch Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s sparkling version running through August 25 at the Cobb Civic Center’s Anderson Theatre in Marietta.

Bialystock and Bloom—if those names don’t register with you, you’re not a theatre geek yet; we’ll fix that. Max Bialystock (Alan Kilpatrick) 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 (Christopher Kent), 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.” An unlikely, 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. The Lyric’s director is Brandt Blocker; choreography, Karen Hebert; music direction, BJ Brown. Original direction and choreography is by Susan Stroman.

If you were to point out to Mel Brooks that his show is a bit tasteless, he’d smile and say, “Thank you! Only a bit?” It’s completely tasteless and so over-the-top that he magically de-fangs himself, and the audience is reduced to helpless laughter.

A perfect example of this talent is B&B’s choice of the worst play possible: a musical paean to the Third Reich called “Springtime for Hitler,” written by Franz Liebkind (a terrific Googie Uterhardt) and directed by a supremely arch theatre queen par excellence, Roger DeBris (Vatican Lokey), first seen in a ball gown and headdress that make him look like the Chrysler Building. How could such a hideous, offensive play succeed? You guessed it—the show is a smash! That’s a big “Oops” for Max and Leo.

By the way, Max has collected backer money by trading sexual favors with very wealthy, geriatric, lonely women. Wait until you see these women cut loose in song using their walkers as dance partners.

Meanwhile, Leo has been swept off his feet by the svelte, seductive Ulla (a beautiful, funny Meg Gillentine), Max and Leo’s knockout Swedish assistant (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”).

This cast is large, attractive, and talented (such as the very funny Jevares C. Myrick as Carmen Ghia); I wish I had space to mention more names. They’re all in the program! In the pivotal roles of Max and Leo, Mr. Kilpatrick and Mr. Kent acquit themselves admirably; both convey that comic desperation that is a must, and both sing very well. And we believe in the friendship that develops; after all the madcap mania, this is Mr. Brooks’ coup de grâce.

I’m not a big fan of recorded music for shows, but it’s handled quite well and certainly doesn’t seem to bother the enthusiastic, sellout crowds the show is drawing. I also wish more of the show could be performed downstage, but the hugeness of “The Producers” doesn’t seem to allow it.  This is the final week for this spectacular show.

For tickets and information, visit atlantalyrictheatre.com.

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