Wednesday, 25 July 2018 16:59

Review: ‘The Producers’ is wickedly funny, no holds barred

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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"The Producers" at Farmers Alley Theatre. "The Producers" at Farmers Alley Theatre. Courtesy Photo

What’s not to love about a gleeful, limp-wristed Adolf Hitler surrounded by exquisite, sparkling show girls donning giant bratwurst and pretzels? Absolutely nothing. And this is but one highlight of many hilarious spectacles among many in Farmers Alley’s “The Producers,” the theater’s 10th anniversary season closer and biggest production to date.

Mel Brooks’ 2001 Broadway musical based on his 1967 cult classic film tells the story of a pathetic yet conniving Broadway producer who, after closing another flop financed by post-menopausal women with whom he exchanges sex play for checks, realizes, with the help of his nebbish accountant, that he could make real, albeit illegal, money by raising more funds than necessary to deliberately produce a flop, and pocketing the difference.

So, Max Bialystock (Stephen Wallem), with the help of his new partner and aspiring producer Leo Bloom (Tony Humrichouser), sets out to find the worst play ever written and the worst director in town, raise a million dollars a piece, and put it together on Broadway with the worst actors in New York only to close it quickly, take the money, and run. However, their “Springtime For Hitler,” a love letter to Der Führer himself, written by former Nazi Franz Liebkind (Atis Kleinbergs) and sure to offend people of all stripes, is perceived as wicked satire and becomes a hit, leaving the producers in quite a pickle.

Mel Brooks’ signature politically incorrect, bawdy humor full of sexual innuendo that pushes stereotype coupled with terrific music (also written by Mel Brooks) and big, showy dance numbers simultaneously celebrates and makes fun of Broadway in this record-breaking Tony Award-winning show. And the Farmers Alley production remains true to the original Broadway production’s vision under excellent direction from Bill Burns with music direction from Jeremy Ramey and a fantastic eight-piece live orchestra. With this brilliant book and music, a fine cast, and delightful design, “The Producers,” as brought to life by Farmers Alley, is a wildly fun night at the theatre.

Performances here are universally stellar. From the 15-person ensemble cast of glittering, shimmering chorus girls and boys who play other roles as well, to the Equity leads, they make the most of the humor, the interesting choreography, and the catchy, funny songs.

Stephen Wallem is a heavy-browed, deadpan Bialystock with impeccable comedic timing. He physically dominates the stage yet never overshadows Tony Humrichouser’s delightfully mousy Leo Bloom. They’re wonderful in these roles together, and whatever chemistry they have off-stage as real life partners is slanted through these characters to excellent effect.

They’re also positively charming with Cassandra Sandberg, who’s phenomenal as Ulla, the Swedish, leggy bombshell with a hysterical accent and an indecipherable string of last names. Their chemistry as a threesome is electric, and her physical and vocal command of this gorgeous, practical sexpot is exemplary.

Atis Kleinbergs, too, gives a fantastic performance as uber-serious, pigeon-loving, lederhosen-donning Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind.

Dwight L. Trice, Jr. plays for laughs as the flamboyant “common law assistant” Carmen Ghia, partner to Director Roger DeBris, who, played expertly by Dirk Lumbard, is less a caricature and more convincingly a man, albeit a gay stereotype, fully delighting in his work, which makes him all the more funny — dressed unwittingly as the Chrysler Building in an evening gown and tiara and prancing around as the swishiest leader of the Third Reich one could hope to imagine. Lumbard is sheer joy in this role.

With original over-the-top glamorous Broadway costumes adapted by Nicole Peckens and technical design from Devin Miller with impressive sets and seamless changes, the show is technically superb.

Not unlike last year’s tremendous “Spamalot,” Farmers Alley has done wonders with an enormous regional production of a wildly popular and hysterical comedy musical with “The Producers.” Though it makes fun of nearly every identifiable demographic there is, it’s so smart and wickedly funny — not to mention pretty to look at and listen to — it makes us laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of life. And who couldn’t use more of that right now?

The Producers
Farmers Alley Theatre
Jul 20-Aug. 5
farmersalleytheatre.com

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