Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford
Mel Brooks' block-buster has hit Connecticut with a smashing road show. It is a grand opportunity to see the Tony-winning "The Producers" - this week only at Oakdale.
While the Broadway version continues to dazzle audiences, this touring company is every bit its equal-with Susan Stroman's high-stepping dance numbers and Mel Brooks' zany songs all impeccably duplicated. There is nothing chintzy about the sets, costumes, lighting. (One wonders how these sets are packed, unpacked, and set in place for a one-week run!) Road shows are not always top drawer, but this "Producers" has nothing for which to apologize. In fact, several of its cast members are seasoned Producerites, having performed on Broadway or in other companies. And though this cast has a lesser-known roster of names, the performers mostly acquit themselves admirably.
As to "The Producers" itself, Mel Brooks' genius can be seen everywhere - in its hilarious lyrics, wacky plot, and show-biz theme. Brooks' original "Producers" was a feature film (his first) in 1968, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, earning Brooks an Academy Award. It was inevitable that this winner would eventually find its way to Broadway, in a musical version. That the Broadway show pulled in top talent did not hurt either. Brooks himself adapted the book with Thomas Meehan, the award-winning Susan Stroman would direct and choreograph, and actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick would top the bill. The Broadway show went on to win Tony awards in every category.
And now, this road show is a faithful replication, affording theatergoers outside New York the same exhilarating experience.
As to the plot, Brooks has created two characters-the unconscionable Max Bialystock, a producer known for his consistent failures on Broadway, and the meek accountant Leo Bloom, who becomes his partner in crime. When Bloom points out that one can make more money from a flop than a hit (not legally of course), Bialystock jumps at the bait. Soon the pair are out to find the worse play and the worst director. They succeed when they find a neo-Nazi who has written, "Springtime for Hitler."
Lewis J. Stadlen, in the lead, is top drawer, creating a larger-than-life Max Bialystock. Since he has such a firm hold on the character, one does not make comparisons to Zero Mostel or Nathan Lane-and their signature performances. Stadlen is in command from the moment he steps on stage. Alan Ruck, however, is less satisfying as Leo Bloom, and here, when one thinks of Matthew Broderick's endearing performance, Ruck is found wanting. He substitutes exaggeration for reality, giving the character a cardboard cut-out quality. In fact, both actors tend to go over the top in the opening scene, but Stadlen can get away with the caricature approach. As to others: Michael McCormick is a show-stealer, playing the goofy German who tends his pigeons and worships Hitler. And he add a fine rich voice to the proceedings. Charley Izabella King, playing Ulla, is certainly an eyeful, creating excitement just by moving about the stage. But her feigned Swedish accent makes it difficult to decipher her lines. And both Lee Roy Reams and Harry Bouvy give flawless comic turns in their roles.
All told, this is an event not to be missed. Hurry on down to Oakdale before this show closes.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 7, 2004