‘The Producers’ at Village Theatre charms, offends for laughs

May 15, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Brian Earp (Leo Bloom), Richard Gray (Max Bialystock), Nick DeSantis (Roger De Bris) and Chris Ensweiler (Carmen Ghia) perform a scene in ‘The Producers.’ Photo by Jay Koh/Village Theatre

“The Producers” caricatures and offends in strokes as broad as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The musical is the ultimate equal-opportunity offender. “The Producers” aims and fires at Jews, gays, women, Nazis — yes, Nazis — and almost everyone else in a rollicking production onstage at Village Theatre.

Indeed, the questionable material, especially the can-they-do-that moments, is the most enjoyable part of “The Producers.”

The mega-musical runs until July 1 and closes the 2011-12 season at Village Theatre.

“The Producers” is a breathless tribute to Broadway and, often in the same breath, a knife-edged parody. The appeal is the cynicism and crassness in the absurdist romp. So what, then, if some songs seem almost forgettable? The numbers still act as a capable delivery device for a handful of funnyman Mel Brooks’ sharpest lines.

The musical is a smash imported to Issaquah 11 years after Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick tore up Broadway in the original run. The lackluster 2005 film adaptation introduced audiences farther afield to the unabashedly old-school show.

The titular producers, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, devise a scheme to produce a flop — “the worst play ever written,” Bialystock thunders — and then filch the investors’ money and hustle to Rio de Janeiro.

But, before Bialystock and Bloom hatch the scam, “The Producers” introduces the audience to Bialystock mid-leap in a fall from grace. “The Producers” starts at the opening night of “Funny Boy!” — a musical based on “Hamlet” and, unsurprisingly, “the worst show in town” as cast members sing.

Richard Gray almost foams at the mouth as the bullish Bialystock, self-styled King of Broadway and a producer as oily as a sardine. Bialystock blusters and rants from curtain to curtain — a megawatt performance, all jutting jaw and gamboling arms, from the multitalented Gray.

Brian Earp imparts a boyish charm as Bloom, a security blanket-toting accountant-turned-producer and a character not as timid as initial appearances suggest.

If you go

‘The Producers’

  • Village Theatre — Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
  • 303 Front St. N.
  • Through July 1
  • Showtimes vary
  • $22 to $62
  • 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

Bloom, assigned to do the books for Bialystock after the “Funny Boy!” flop, mentions offhandedly a hypothetical plan to scheme investors and produce a deliberate Broadway bomb. The production partnership, after some cajoling and arm-twisting, is formed.

Bialystock sets off to charm checks from little old ladies and, together, the producers conspire to find the worst show, director and cast possible.

Jessica Skerritt is Ulla, a statuesque Swede cast in “Springtime for Hitler” and, on the side, the secretary for Bialystock and Bloom. The apple-cheeked Skerritt confirms a heart beats atop the million-dollar gams.

Bialystock and Bloom turn to “Springtime for Hitler” playwright Franz Liebkind, a Nazi relic left over after Hitler’s promised 1,000-year Third Reich ended 988 years early. David Anthony Lewis is a delight as the nutty Nazi. So, too, is the clever puppetry used to create Liebkind’s Nazi-saluting pigeons.

In the show stopping number “Along Came Bialy” — as Bialystock raises money to produce “Springtime for Hitler” — more than a dozen randy grannies perform a dance routine using walkers.

Nick DeSantis, as director Roger De Bris, sashays onto stage in a grand gown and headpiece made to resemble the Chrysler Building and, moments later, dons a Rita Hayworth wig for the aptly titled “Keep It Gay” — a paean to the feather-light subject matter in most musicals.  (The over-the-top number includes a Village People gag for good measure.)

Chris Ensweiler, Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple” earlier in the season, returns to Village Theatre dressed in a series of costumes pilfered from Andy Warhol’s closet as Carmen Ghia, De Bris’ pixie-ish muse.

The most sidesplitting segment in “The Producers” is the moment the cast stages the musical inside the musical, “Springtime for Hitler.”

DeSantis’ turn as a fey Führer is dizzying and hilarious, a “German Ethel Merman” — as the actor crows in the song “Springtime for Hitler” — dressed in khakis and a sparkly swastika armband.

The showgirls in “Springtime for Hitler” sport Teutonic touchstones, including headpieces featuring a Brobdingnagian beer stein, prodigious pretzel and a bulky bratwurst.

Tacky? Sure. Hilarious? Obviously. The number captures the best part of “The Producers,” barbs and all.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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