Mel Brooks’ long-running hit The Producers is such a strong show, it can probably survive a mediocre production. But don’t worry—it doesn’t have to with The Players’ rousing rendition, now onstage, which deserves to have quite a long run itself.
You may at the outset of the evening find yourself struggling a little to escape the shadows of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as mendacious Max and loser Leo, respectively. But it isn’t long before one warms to the interpretations of these characters by Robby May and Steve Jaquith, who are pretty darn good together. Add to that strong comic direction and timing by Michael Newton-Brown, some fun and well-executed choreography by Dewayne Barrett, lively musical support by Joyce Valentine and her orchestra, and an ensemble adept at donning and doffing wigs and rigs to play everything from little old ladies to goose-stepping Nazis, and you’ve got a hit on your hands.
That, of course, is the fate that also befalls Broadway producers Max and Leo, even though they’re striving for a flop (that will leave them holding the backers’ cash) with the worst play ever written, Springtime for Hitler. Knowing practically by heart every song, line and plot twist of this Brooks extravaganza doesn’t harm one’s enjoyment of seeing the disaster unfold.
Newton-Brown has assembled an especially talented cast here. May, who scored earlier this season on The Players stage as Jud in Oklahoma!, revels in the role of Max; he’s not only highly entertaining but has a powerful voice, making his delivery of the Act II showstopper Betrayed a highlight of the production. He’s matched by Jaquith as Leo, who makes the transition from a nervous nebbish to a guy who’s willing to go all the way to be a producer an engaging one.
Libby Fleming, Robby May and Steve Jaquith in The Producers.
And then there’s Libby Fleming as Ulla. Fleming has played a number of roles over the last few years at The Players, but never one that allowed her to strut her stuff as flamboyantly as Swedish siren Ulla. She and Jaquith (who are a couple offstage as well) are smooth and sweet on their duet, That Face.
The show is equally well served by performers in other pivotal roles. Mike Phelan as Hitler-loving playwright Franz Liebkind gets laughs just for appearing in his German helmet and lederhosen, but he also earns them with his nutso intensity on numbers like Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop. And Players favorite (onstage and off) Bob Trisolini may have been a last-minute substitute as campily gay director Roger DeBris, but we hope it’s not taken the wrong way if we say he seems born to play the part. Backed by Jason Macumber as the even swishier Carmen Ghia, he is, in short, a hoot.
All those big Broadway production numbers are cleverly adapted to fit The Players stage and cast, and they deliver.
The Producers runs through March 27; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org for tickets.