Monday, September 26, 2016

Massey and Banville shine in SDMT “The Producers”

Beaumarchais said, “I hasten to laugh at everything for fear of being obliged to weep”. “The Producers”, Mel Brooks musical, now on stage in its San Diego Regional premiere at The Spreckels through Oct. 9th personifies the above quote.

“The Producers” came through San Diego in 2004 and has been produced locally, but not often, over the years. It’s a huge show and needs just the right vision for it. SDMT seems to have found it based on the audience reaction on opening night.

Brooks wrote the music and lyrics and he collaborated on the book with Thomas Meeham. The staged musical is set in 1959 and is based on the movie version set earlier that was much darker. Brooks’ shticks in the musical are over the top, vulgar, off the wall, outrageous; shameless and you name it. Sorry folks!

That said it never stopped the audiences from eating it up. Most has to do with the extraordinary talent on stage and the fact that Brooks is inherently an oddly funny guy that seems to get away with the bizarre. Think “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”.   

“The Producers” is about a down on your luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock. He has a knack for producing shows that are so bad that he cons ‘little old ladies’ into financing his failures and then takes off with the profits of the failed shows. Consider the musical version of “Hamlet” which he called  “Funny Boy” that opened and closed in a day. That was his as well.

When his nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Bryan Banville) sees how much money he is losing (in the cooked books) on these flops Bloom comes up with the idea that by producing the worse shows in history they can legitimately lose money that they can write off and still come out ahead. Max jumps at the chance.

The two form a partnership, Bialystock & Bloom Theatrical Producers. Their first order of business is to produce a sure fire loser. After rummaging through a list of plays from hell, they decide on a disaster called “Springtime for Hitler, a Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden” written by wacko neo-nazi pigeon aficionado, Franz Libkind (a gifted Lance Carter). Keep in mind, the bigger the flop, the bigger the cash pot.

Cast of "The Producers"
The SDMT leads (Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick became the quintessential pair on Broadway) are John Massey and Bryan Banville his sidekick. Both fit the bill. Massey has all the right moves and he is funny without being too over the top. His cohort in crime Banville is played with panache as the overly nervous accountant. He is just what the doctor ordered as Massey’s, a bigger than life presence, foil.  I loved the scenes when he takes out his blanky. Banville whose credits among others include “Titanic” “Music Man” and “Spamalot” is an asset on any stage.

Russell Garret is a hoot as the queenly director Roger DeBris, (keep it gay) of “Springtime for Hitler”. Luke Harvey Jacobs is perfect as Carmen Ghia; Roger DeBris (more of Brooks’ signature take offs on the name bending game) is his common law well... He all but steals the show.

Russell Garrett and show girls
Tony Houk, another talented local actor recently seen in several NVA shows adds to the variety in the ensemble and E.Y. Washington (ensemble and Officer O’Houllihan) is a hoot as he rattles charges off in a thick Irish brogue while dragging Max off to his holding cell for (for sooth) cheating the government.

Siri Hafso is a knockout as Ulla, Max’s voluptuous Swedish secretary and then some. If you happened to catch her in “American Rhythm” at Lamb’s or in “West Side Story” you will agree that she is one hell of a dancer, not to mention, an actor. 

The dance numbers (Janet Renslow) in Act II are about the funniest scenes in the show with tap dancing storm troopers, choruses of dancers dressed as panzer tanks, show girls a la Las Vegas dressed a schnitzels, beer steins and every other German symbol swaggering down the stairs and parading in front of the audience. Act I is nothing to shake a shoulder at either with “Little Old Lady Land” a dance number using walkers in “Along Came Bialy”.

San Diego native Director Jamie Torcellini is blessed with a talented and very large cast made up of several local actors that work overtime to be funny, but the show tries too hard, feels dated and the set designs feel and look old (Christopher Murillo). My main complaint always on opening night it was about a half hour or so too long. Hopefully it will pick up speed for future audiences.

John Massey, Brian Banville and Siri Hafso
Musical director Don Le Master creates his usual magic with his large orchestra. There were some sound issues (Kevin Anthenill) that were corrected early on. Michael Van Hoffman’s lighting worked to the benefit of the company and Beth Connelly’s costumes, especially in the show- girl number, are a hoot.

I find it somewhat ironic or maybe a stroke of genius that the charity of choice for the founders of San Diego Musical Theatre (they donate some of the proceeds collected in the lobby after each show) was Jewish Family Services. I know first hand that JFS is a worthy organization that serves the community at large on several different levels.

Some good must come from something so horrific.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 9th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Phone: 858-560-5740
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 121 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Spreckels Theatre
Photo: Ken Jacques

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