Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see Jeffrey's review of Cabaret
The musical opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on April 19, 2001, where it ran for 2,502 performances. The production, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, went on to win 12 Tony Awards and was so successful that it sparked a musical film version in 2005.
Set in New York City in 1959, The Producers follows down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock, played here by veteran actor Lenny Wolpe whose Broadway credits include Bullets Over Broadway, Wicked, The Drowsy Chaperone and The Sound of Music, and his timid accountant Leo Bloom, played by Mark Price whose equally impressive Broadway credits include Mary Poppins, Wonderful Town, All Shook Up and Mamma Mia!.
Together, Max and Leo scheme to intentionally produce a Broadway show that is a flop so they can keep all of the backers' money for themselves. First they need the worst script possible. Max selects a submission entitled Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden that is sure to offend people of all races, creeds and religions. Next they select the worst director in town, the incredibly flamboyant (remember this is 1959, so flamboyant was yet to be cool) Roger Debris, played by Michael Brian Dunn. Auditions secure them some of the worst talent available, including their beautiful Swedish secretary Ula, played by Elyse Collier. While the tall and voluptuous Ula is a treat for the eyes (particularly those belonging to Max and Leo), she is inexperienced and unpolished on stage. They also secure the eccentric, ex-Nazi playwright of their flop-to-be, Franz Liebkind, played by Roland Rusinek, to play the leading role of Adolf Hitler. So, you may ask, with the deck so stacked in their favor, what could possibly go wrongor right?
Thankfully, many things are right about the Maltz Jupiter Theatre production. A cast of 21 actors grab audience attention from the very first scene with clean choreography, good comic timing, strong character choices, and exceptional pacing. Scene transitions requiring set changes are cleverly done through the use of actors finishing the scenes as they exit through the audience. Naturally, as the audience follows the action, they do not notice the set change on stage, and the result is smooth and seamless.
A nine-piece orchestra led by musical director Michael Larsen play the show flawlessly. The scenic design is right on the money, and the costuming is both elegant (loved the period ladies gowns) and humorous. In the "Springtime for Hitler" section, each of the "Bavarian showgirl" outfits received more laughs than the previous, not to mention the Village People inspired costuming of Debris' assorted houseboys as they shimmy and hump their way up the aisle on when exiting.
As Max Bialystock, Lenny Wolpe channels Mel Brooks at his best in his comedic delivery. He has the comedic timing and inflections of an old Catskills stand-up comedian that drive home the multiple one-liners. As Leo Bloom, the talented Mark Price is strongly reminiscent of Robert Morse in How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying. While his performance is strong, his character is missing an element of warmth. We get that he is mousy, but as we don't get any tenderness or vulnerability, we don't see why Ula would go for him. The character also needs more of an arc for his bond with Max at the end of the show to make more sense.
Elyse Collier is lovely as Ula. She is as beautiful, tall and voluptuous as the character is described, and her delivery conveys Ula's oddly frank innocence. But she sorely needs to work on her Swedish accent, as it is all over the map. Michael Brian Dunn turns in a wonderful performance as Roger Debris, one that is both high camp and high energy. At first glance his comedic strokes seem broad, but his performance in the show-within-the-show is one that is surprisingly multi-layered. Seth Tucker as Carmen Ghia is a bit one note in his performance, though it is clear that his scene work has been very thoroughly staged and directed. Alas, though the microphone systems were working well on the night attended, we completely lost the held sibilant "s" for which his character is known. Roland Rusinek is memorable as the demented and slightly dangerous Franz Liebkind. We are left with the image of his fixed, large, round eyes smudged with the sleeplessness of an insomniac starring back at us like a tormented version of Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre production of The Producers is enjoyable to be sure. I found myself smiling almost the whole time, and the evening whizzed by almost too quickly.
The Producers will be appearing at Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, Florida, through January 27, 2017. Tickets for this production start at $56. For tickets and complete information on the theatre's offerings, contact them by phone at 561-575-2223 or 800-445-1666 and online at www.jupitertheatre.org.
*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
^Designates a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists, a labor union and professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople.