Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of A Walk in the Woods
In Manhattan of 1959, Max is struggling to recover after his latest musical, Funny Boy, flops in New York. However, shortly after meeting his new accountant Leo Bloom (Raben) and learning that a producer can make plenty of money when financing a flop, he comes up with a clever scheme. Max and Leo eventually agree to produce what they hope will be a major disaster, Springtime for Hitler and, in the process, encounter some strange and colorful people. These include the ex-Nazi author of the original play, Franz Liebkind (Luke H. Jacobs); Roger De Bris (Josh Adamson), a gay director with a campy vision of the story; and Roger's loyal partner Carmen Ghia (Max Cadillac). As the producer and his accountant get closer to their goal, they begin to develop a genuine friendship.
The concept behind the story is very amusing, but this is far from a one-joke evening. The humor highlights Max's amoral attitude and Leo's neurotic personality, and the strong comedic writing from Brooks and Thomas Meehan ensures that every scene has several hilarious moments. Brooks' songs, including "I Wanna Be a Producer" and "Along Came Bialy," with music in the style of old-fashioned musical comedies and lyrics that are often gleefully in bad taste, are skillfully executed by the cast.
Led by music director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda, and complemented by Jim Zadai's sound design, the orchestra brings a mischievous energy to melodies such as "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" and "Springtime for Hitler." Stroman's choreography, a standout aspect of the original production, is recreated here by by Karl Warden and a great fit with the music and Brooks' sense of humor, while Raben's direction keeps the humor, music and dialogue flowing smoothly, much to the delight of the audience.
Raben works with a large ensemble to depict a Manhattan full of hilariously idiosyncratic individuals. It all begins with the opening scene of Funny Boy's opening night, set in a Shubert Alley. The costumes coordinated by Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd, scenery based on the original design by Robin Wagner, and Jennifer Edwards' increasingly stylistic lighting all capture the tone of the original production and 1950s New York.
Torcellini's spoken voice feels influenced by the original star, Nathan Lane, and he is very funny when exploring Max's self-centered personality, particularly in his handling of the solo number, "Betrayed." Raben is humorous and touching as Leo grows in confidence before the opening of Springtime for Hitler. The two stars share a first-rate stage chemistry. There are plenty of standout supporting performers as well, with Adamson, Cadillac, Jacobs, and Kate Barna (as Swedish secretary Ulla) showcasing their considerable talents.
Raben's version of Brooks' The Producers provides a hysterical opening to Moonlight's 39th summer season in Vista.
The Producers, through June 29, 2019, at Moonlight Stage Productions 1200 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista CA. Tickets start at $17.00 and can be purchased online at www.moonlightstage.com or by phone at 760-724-2110.