Dates 27 February - 4 March 2007@ 8 pm Venue The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts

Reviewer Susan Peake

You have to wonder what the odds would be of successfully duplicating a musical comedy that has already had the distinction of winning the most Tony Awards in Broadway history. And really…..who would want to even attempt to fill the shoes of the likes of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. But on opening night, at the Vancouver premiere of The Producers, it was obvious by the audience’s reaction that success was achieved. From the moment the show began, there was raucous laughter filling the Centre for the Performing Arts, and it continued for the better part of the next 3 hours. Yes, the “new” production of The Producers is everything one could hope for - zany, loud, energetic, bold, rude, and entirely hilarious.

Mel Brooks takes credit for this Academy Award-winning film come Broadway sensation and later, film remake. Once again it hits the stage making its Vancouver premiere, and on opening night it proved to be sheer entertainment. It is the story of Max Bialystock, a failed Broadway producer who teams up with his accountant, Leo Bloom, in an attempt to pocket $2 million in investors’ money (mostly little old ladies with needs and big chequebooks) to produce a flop and thereby ensure they’ll never have to repay their investors.

The “flop” is a musical comedy about Adolf Hitler – an oxymoron if there ever was one – and as luck would have it, the flop does not flop – it becomes a huge hit. This leaves our connivers, Max and Leo, broke and looking at spending a good length of time behind bars.

Jason Simon plays Max Bialystock, formerly played by Zero Mostel in the 1968 movie version and later, by Nathan Lane. Having seen Nathan Lane’s incredible performance in the movie version, I was more than curious to see how Simon would pull this off. Initially, I was not sold on his performance, partly because his voice didn’t seem to project clearly (and also perhaps because I was looking for Nathan). However, by the second act it was two thumbs up for Simon, and he all but brought down the house with his rendition of “Betrayed”. The audience went wild!

Austin Owen plays Leo Bloom, the neurotic accountant, and he does wonders with the role. Owen’s obvious musical talents along with his gift for physical comedy made him a ringer as this laughable character. I particularly enjoyed his singing numbers – “We Can Do It” and “Where Did We Go Right?” where he is able to deliver fast paced lyrics with perfect clarity.

Elizabeth Pawlowski is lovely as Ulla. Likewise, Brad Nacht is an enchanting Roger De Bris. But the two supporting performances that stood out for me were those by John West (Carmen Ghia) and Jesse Coleman (Franz Liebkind). West’s comic moves had the audience in stitches, and Coleman was priceless in “In Old Bavaria” and “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

The choreography was brilliant – polished, intricate, and clever. With the fast-paced nature of this musical, along with so many wild and crazy antics embedded in each scene, it is nothing short of a miracle that timing was consistently impeccable. Likewise for the 12-piece orchestra lead by Kasey RT Graham who has their work cut out for them to keep up with the rapid and raunchy musical numbers.

Stage scenery was well done, and a particular scene in the second act included the use of a slanted mirrored back drop that provided the audience with the visual perspective of what was happening on stage. The audience loved it and once again put their hands together in appreciation. Set changes were smooth, seamless, and always executed without a hitch.

I can’t remember the last time I witnessed such a participative, uninhibited audience at the theatre. It was almost as if we fully embraced the opportunity to escape into another dimension – one of silliness – and leave all the woes of the world outside the door. For the better part of three hours, there was an unmistakable sense of collective joy. And as the theatre patrons spilled out of the doors at the end of the night to make their way home, a tangible positive energy surrounded all – a rare but welcome state.

Bravo to all those responsible for The Producers. It was truly delightful!

© 2007 Susan Peake