BWW Reviews: Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS Brings Laughter to the Max at the Morgan Wixson Theater
Bialystock and Bloom! Those names should strike terror and hysteria in anyone familiar with Mel Brooks' classic cult comedy film. Now as a big Broadway musical, THE PRODUCERS once again sets the standard for modern, outrageous, in-your-face humor. The 2001 Tony Award Winning Best Musical based on Brooks' 1968 film of the same name, has been wowing audiences around the world, and now at the Morgan Wixson Theater in Santa Monica through August 2, 2014.
The plot is simple: a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer and his mild-mannered accountant come up with a scheme to produce the most notorious flop in theater history, thereby bilking their backers (all "little old ladies") out of millions of dollars. But at the core of the insanely funny adventure is a poignant emotional journey of two very different men who become friends.
The antics of Max Bialystock (Silas Benjamin) and Leo Bloom (Jack Robert Riordan) as they maneuver their way fecklessly through finding a show (the gloriously offensive "Springtime For Hitler"), hiring a director, raising the money and finally going to prison for their misdeeds when the show is a smash hit instead of the hoped for flop!
Returning to the stage after a 26 year absence, the production belongs to Silas Benjamin who captures the wit and bad-boy soul of Bialystock. With his booming voice and larger-than-life persona, Benjamin is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to life, especially with his collection of little old ladies, led by Shaina Ostroff as Hold Me-Touch Me. Bialystock's jailhouse solo "Betrayed" in which Benjamin acts out the entire plot of the musical by mimicking each of the characters was absolutely hysterical.
Bialystock's business partner, Leo Bloom, is portrayed by Jack Robert Riordan who nails the immature aspects of this young man who has been stuck in an accounting office with little exposure to the real world, especially women. Riordan obviously was enjoying Leo's many moments cuddling up with his little blue blankie whenever life gets too overwhelming for him. It is a shame that the too loud pre-recorded music or wonderfully harmonic ensemble were able to drown out his singing voice. Certainly a body mic could take care of that problem, making his song lyrics more comprehensible to the audience.
Some of the funniest moments in the production are when the walker-wielding little old ladies dance up a storm, thanks to the inventive choreography by Lauren Blair throughout the show. The big production numbers were flawless and incredibly entertaining thanks to her vision of what could be done onstage. Blair also plays the Swedish blonde bombshell Ulla in the production. Blair dances well and has great legs, but she underplays Ulla's over-the-top sexiness and often loses the necessary Swedish accent.
As Bialystock and Bloom venture out to obtain the rights to "Springtime for Hitler," they meet with the playwright, Franz Liebkind (Matt Harrison) as he tends to his hysterically lively, dancing pigeons. Harrison knows how to sell a song and lights up the stage singing "Old Bavaria" and "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" during auditions with Max and Leo. No wonder they cast him as Hitler in their soon-to-take-Broadway-by-storm musical.
Continuing on their production journey, Max and Leo venture to the Manhattan Apartment of Roger DeBris (Aric Martin, again a scene-stealer as he was in Avenue Q and Spamalot at the Morgan Wixson), who they meet as he models a shimmering dress befitting the Chrysler Building. Robert Francis portrays his over-the-top gay assistant Carmen Ghia, whose wondrous "walk this way" is right out of a Marilyn Monroe movie. Adding to the intense hysterics during "Keep It Gay" and "The Conga" is Roger's oh-so-gay production team made up of his choreographer (the limber Steven Weber), costumer (Steven Flower, who spends some time comically dressing a statue), and leather-clad James Olivas. I have to admit I do not remember what his role was on the team, being distracted by his athletic dancing and leather pants as he made his way up the aisle to the row where I was sitting!
Kudos to the entire ensemble, who have more character and costume changes than I could count, featuring the talents of Holly Childers, Steven Flowers, Annie Claire Hudson, Andrew Mackin, Joy Martin, Dana Mazarin, Danielle Miller, Kelsey Nisbett (whose smile lights up the stage), James Olivas, Eileen O'Donnell, Marc Ostroff (playing a dozen unique characters), Shaina Ostroff, Scott Senior, Christian Soto, Robin Twitty, Steve Weber, Grace Yoo, and Justin Yu.
Kudos to Stage Manager Larry Gesling and his backstage wonder team for moving the many large set pieces designed by Thomas A. Brown in and out with very few pacing glitches. I spoke with Larry after the show and he commented that the backstage antics should really be filmed as no one would believe what really goes on in putting the show on the boards. I, for one, would love to see that video!
THE PRODUCERS skewers Broadway traditions and takes no prisoners as it proudly proclaims itself an "equal opportunity offender!" While that is certainly true, it is also one of the funniest musicals ever written and I guarantee you will laugh your troubles away for a few hours enjoying the production at the Morgan Wixson. Order your tickets soon because I have a feeling shows will start selling out quickly!
THE PRODUCERS with Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks runs from June 28 - August 2, 2014 at Santa Monica's Morgan Wixson Theatre, with talkbacks are scheduled for Friday, July 11th, and Sunday, July 20th. Directed and Music Directed by Anne Gesling, Choreographed by Lauren Blair, and Produced by Meredith Wright & W. Joseph Anderson, the creative team includes Lauren Blair (Choreographer), Thomas A. Brown (Set Designer), William Wilday (Lighting Designer).
Reserved seats start at $25 online at www.morgan-wixson.org or call the theatre box office at 310-828-7519.
The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, CA 90405. Accessible by Big Blue Bus #7 and #8.
Max Bialystock (Silas Benjamin) and Leo Bloom (Jack Robert Riordan)