(photos by: Nancy Hickey)
Written by Daniella Litvak
The first thing you need to know about The Producers is that Mel Brooks created it (and fortunately the playbill tells you this right upfront). Mel Brooks is the creative giant behind so many beloved masterpieces: Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Spaceballs to mention only a few. Brooks has a very distinctive style. Some of his trademarks are bawdiness, meta-humor, and merciless mockery. The Producers is no exception.
The Producers begins with Max Bialystock –a sleazy Broadway producer. The problem is he used to be a successful sleazy Broadway producer, but is now stuck in a rut –producing flop after flop. Enter Leo Bloom: he is the accountant assigned to audit Max’s books after yet another disastrous opening night. Leo may be timid and neurotic, but he also makes a startling discovery. A producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. Max seizes on the idea and brings in Leo as an accomplice. Now all they have to do is find the worst play, hire the worst director, raise the money, and they’ll be closing on Broadway before they know it!
The Producers is not an easy show to produce from either an artistic or technical perspective. The story line requires a lot of different sets. The costumes need to be outrageous. And the actors are put through emotional and physical rigors. Given this multitude of challenges, the question whether or not high schools should put on The Producers arises. And you know what? If all high schools can perform it as well as the students of the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, then the answer is yes.
The cast is fantastic. Adrian Villegas plays Max, and from beginning to end he is great. Villegas really seemed to be channeling Nathan Lane’s (original The Producers star) manner of talking. I also really liked Austin Schulte’s Leo. He and Allison Bossart, who played Ulla (a Swedish bombshell who auditions for Max and Leo’s play) the night I went, impressed me deeply during the number “That Face.” The show does not spend too much time on the Leo and Ulla romance subplot, so “That Face” is responsible for developing the attraction between the two and the subsequent courtship. Schulte’s and Bossart’s performances make it a sincerely tender love song while still keeping it comedic through the choreography. Of course no review of The Producers is complete without mentioning the scene stealing roles of Director Roger De Bris (Adam Blanchard) and playwright Franz Liebkind (Coleton Ray). Blanchard and Ray do those roles justice and are immensely fun to watch. Really everyone in the cast deserves to be praised for their performances, and the orchestra does too.
There are a few small quibbles. The singing during group numbers was a little muddled at the beginning, but that quickly went away. Also there was a visual gag that wasn’t quite pulled off. But these really are pretty minor.
You may already be familiar with The Producers due to the either the 1968 or 2005 film versions, with the 2005 film modeling itself after the stage show. Still there are few songs in the show that did not make it to screen. The simple fact is The Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts has put on a really good show –the kind Max and Leo would NOT invest in.
Sidenote: I loved how the lobby was decorated with posters for Max’s other plays: Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, Spaceballs: The Schwartz Awakens. Also the tribute to Gene Wilder –who played Leo in the 1968 film –was touching.
October 14- 23rd 2016
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