The Producers by Mel Brooks

Dates and Venue 15 May – 13 July 2008 @ 8 pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Bill Millerd Choreographer Valerie Easton Costume Designer Alison Green Musical Director Ken Cormier

Reviewer John Jane

The eminently successful partnership of Brooks, Bialystock and Bloom have arrived in Vancouver and taken over (until 13th July) the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. The audience-ffriendly The Producers has everything that one would want in a musical comedy and more.

Director Bill Millerd’s economy-size production pays homage to Mel Brooks’ renowned excess as well as adding his own brand of ham and corn, yet mercifully holding the line on vulgarity. This blatantly, politically incorrect show sends up everybody including gays, Nazi sympathizers and the theatre community at large without being in any way malicious.

Sure, the gags are well-worn and tested and the old “Walk this way” sight-gag was stolen from early vaudeville, nonetheless, when delivered with such style and swagger they can still work.

When a “wannabe” impresario, Leo Bloom calls on failed Broadway producer, Max Bialystock to go over accounts from his previous disastrous production, he inadvertently stumbles across a ruse that might make a producer richer if a show failed than if it were to succeed.

Immediately, dollar signs appear in Bialystock’s head and he then sets about devising a scheme to execute Bloom’s theory. He manages to persuade Bloom to become his partner in finding a play that is sure to flop and raise funds from little old ladies with sexual needs and big cheque books.

Their success depends on staging the worst musical in Broadway history, thereby ensuring they’ll never have to repay their investors. Prophetically, the show, Springtime for Hitler, is so ostentatiously tasteless that it’s deemed a “satirical masterpiece.”

Jay Brazeau and Josh Epstein combine brilliantly as the flamboyant, larger-than-life producer and painfully neurotic bean-counter. Brazeau is very much the elder statesman of this versatile cast, yet isn’t short of energy maintaining the pace of his younger costars. Local boy, Epstein fares even better; skillfully showing off his triple-talent of acting, singing and dancing in some of the shows best scenes.

After being blown away by Terra C. Macleod’s performance as the incomparable Velma Kelly in Chicago last April, I was slightly disappointed with her handling of the Swedish bombshell, Ulla. The very bad blonde wig that looked like it was left over from Dirty Blonde (Mae West bio-musical) didn’t help. Certainly, she was technically faultless in Ulla’s introduction number, “When You Got It, Flaunt It” but her posture hardly matched the song’s brazen spirit. Perhaps playing off as eye candy isn’t something that inspires this talented Montrealer’s best.

The two supporting performances that stood out for me were those by Ron Pederson, who is nothing short of hilarious as Carmen Ghia (Why is he named after a Volkswagen?) and Jackson Davies, stepping out of his comfort zone as closet Nazi Franz Liebkind. Davies, who usually prefers more understated roles, is outrageously over-the-top in the comical “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

Valerie Easton deserves special mention for her sparkling choreography. Sharp, polished and creative; the “Little Old Lady Rag” performed with walking aids by the ensemble (both men and women) is a featured highlight. Ted Roberts’ clever set design looks more lavish than it really is. His use of two different sets for Bialystock’s office tricks the audience in believing that Ulla actually decorates it in a solid white paint.

The Producers isn’t my favourite presentatation of the season (The Black Rider took that “honour”). But, it is lots of fun, and so far, no one has asked for refunds.

© 2008 John Jane