Review: The Producers at Miami Beach's Gleason Theater
"When you wish upon a star." Well, I actually hadn't been wishing upon a star. I had been wishing for stars to play Leo and Max in this national tour of THE PRODUCERS. However, as heavenly as stars would have been, the show is indeed the star of this fabulous national tour.
THE PRODUCERS became a theatrical legend before it ever played its first New York preview. THE PRODUCERS place in history was cemented when it won more Tony awards than any other show in Broadway history. In my lifetime there have not been too many genuine Broadway phenomena. I've never gotten to see THE PRODUCERS on Broadway. I attended tonight's opening performance at Miami Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater with great anticipation, excitement and a sense of impending joy.
Can any show live up to the hype and the ecstatic reviews THE PRODUCERS received when it opened on Broadway? Yes, this show certainly can. From the moment the overture began, the theater filled with an air of excitement. We knew we were about to have our theatrical socks knocked off.
I must return to a prior point. As previously mentioned, there was a certain degree of disappointment and trepidation in this critic's mind because this national tour of THE PRODUCERS "has no stars."
Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick created "a happening" when THE PRODUCERS opened on Broadway. They famously returned to the Broadway production for a few months, a couple of years after the show opened, to bring the box office back to that beloved 100% plus capacity. Mr. Broderick and Mr. Lane are also, of course, starring in the upcoming film version of THE PRODUCERS. So, it is understandable that any theatergoer might be "most pleased" to see THE PRODUCERS starring Lane and Broderick. Barring that, one might expect that the parts of Bialystock and Bloom would be played by stars known on Broadway, or by performers with name recognition from the world of film, television or recordings. Well cast stars playing Leo and Max would have truly torpedoed this divine production into theatrical orbit. Happily, bliss is still found at THE PRODUCERS without stars.
The team behind this national tour of THE PRODUCERS has rather cannily "downplayed" the lead roles of Max and Leo in their Florida advertising. Until this Sunday, our major newspapers featured ads for THE PRODUCERS, but the ads never pictured the characters of Bialystock and Bloom. They were full of images of Ulla, the nazi playwright, Roger De Bris in his dress and the "little old ladies dancing with their walkers." Suddenly, this past Sunday, the first ad appeared that was reminiscent of the original PRODUCERS "poster." The ad displayed the names of Bob Amaral and Andy Taylor where Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick originally appeared.
Amaral and Taylor are both talented, experienced theater professionals and indeed are often delightful in THE PRODUCERS. They zing those Mel Brooks lines and shtick as they should and both have more than fine singing voices. Andy Taylor is a particularly engaging lovely voiced Leo Bloom. However, this show was constructed around the "star wattage" of the Broadway originals. Amaral and Taylor are certainly more than fine as Max and Leo, but their lack of that special stardust throws this production just a shade off kilter. One needn't worry. This show is so strongly constructed and directed that when it does not have stars, the show itself becomes the star.
Stuart Marland as Roger De Bris, was indeed very fine if not particularly inspired. His performance as the gay director who goes on to star in Springtime for Hitler never quite soared to the heights of the material. No one "stole" this show. Rich Affannato as Carmen Ghia was an absolute comic gem. The entire "Roger De Bris" team seemed to have their own special and wonderful electricity going on in this show. Ida Leigh Curtis as Ulla exerts magic power that propels every move she makes on stage. Every word she says and every note she sings, seems a gift from theatrical Heaven. She is magnificent. She is likely the ultimate Ulla. Bill Nolte as Franz Liebkind is a scene stealer and audience favorite who's nazi playwright will not soon be forgotten by this evening's audience. His singing voice is as grand as his pet pigeons are riotous.