The Producers – Where there's a hit, there's a tour!

As with any big hit show on Broadway, before long the touring companies are sure to follow, which is a good thing. How else could the rest of the country enjoy what takes place on Broadway?

Mel Brook's has set himself up for a winner with some possible risks. A winner, in that the Broadway production of The Producers claimed a record number of 12 Tony Awards, though I was personally surprised to see this take home "best musical, best score or best featured actress in a musical." But win it did!

A risk, in that the original casting of Nathan Lane ( Max Bialystock) and Matthew Broderick (Leo Bloom) are the "golden boys" in their perspective roles and pretty much as good as it gets in these roles. This is an enviable compliment to Lane and Broderick, while a possible casting dilemma for The Producers producers. Fortunately this show flourishes well under the strength of Susan Stroman's direction and choreography. I'm sure Mr. Brooks will have a few good years on the road with this crowd pleaser.

So, on to the show. The crowd at the Merriam was excited to be there. Let's face it, two of the most anticipated shows for the 2003-04 season were Chicago and The Producers and both delivered!

Despite the high hilarity of a musical comedy about a pair of mis-matched, swindling Broadway producers, plotting to rip off the public with a well invested flop hit, there's a ton of things happening on that stage that requires an army of behind the scene magic to pull off this mega-show. And pull it off they do! Stroman's work is famous for her use of swings, tables (Contact) and file cabinets (Music Man) and she uses both of these props again. The dancing flows naturally and reflects exactly what Brook's has put on the page. From the little old ladies and their tap dancing walkers to the pigeon puppets in their salute to Hitler, the Brooks humor is matched with the Stroman success record once again.

This tour cast is a talented, high- energy group that is overall top notch. The focus is on the ill-fated "producers" Bialystock & Bloom. Bob Amaral (Max Bialystock) has a great opening line in his bio. He comes to this blockbuster from another blockbuster, the national tour of The Lion King, where he played Pumba. Amaral comments " Hey, just think about it, it's not such a stretch to go from a flatulent grub-eating, but lovable warthog to a fraudulent, money-grubbing but lovable producer!" Amaral has done his homework with this tough, on your toes role. But he seems to work too hard to get the comedy just the way it's "supposed" to come off. Looking a bit fierce and focused at times, he delivers his shtick well, but it doesn't come naturally.

Andy Taylor (Leo Bloom) originated the roles of Howard in Moon Over Buffalo and J.H. Rodgers in Titanic on Broadway. Taylor plays the sheepish accountant turned reluctant producer well, though his vulnerability and boyish charm is not quite all that it could be. I found his vocal ability inconsistent the night I saw him. Still, the pair has a fair amount of chemistry and good comedic timing. But therein lies the risk. With a musical that relies so heavily on its two main leads, this will remain a challenge to find two actors to fit the bill that the original Broadway leads set and spoiled the audience with their polished to near perfect performances.

The two fumbling fellows are taken in by the blonde Swedish bombshell Ulla, who "auditions" for them for a position, which they gladly offer! Ida Lee Curtis comes directly from the Broadway production with Lane and Broderick to play the role that in all due respect, any very shapely, sexy, half decent singer/dancer could fill.

Fortunately for this tour, the supporting cast is top of the line all the way. Outstanding performances are turned in by Stuart Marland who lights up the stage with his fruity, fabulous interpretations of the foppy, flop director Roger DeBris as well as a divine, gay Hitler. I last saw Marland on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and I was pleasantly surprised to see the transformation from a stuffy British aristocrat to a flaming, drag queen.

Rich Affannato, (Carmen Ghia), who also played this role on Broadway, brings his spirited, temperamental diva self and dives right back into his role as Roger's common-law assistant. This is followed by a garden party variety that would rival the Village People, posing as DeBris's creative team. Franz Leibkind, a robust Bill Nolte plays the demented neo-Nazi playwright for "Springtime for Hitler." Nolte only adds more laughs to this already insanely mad plot to unearth the worst play ever written.

The score adapts well to the characters and story, despite the fact that there is truly not one memorable tune among the 22 or so songs and no one seems to mind. The sets, costumes and dancing are a Rockettes fest gone wild and the audience loves every minuet of it.

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks, direction and choreography by Susan Stroman

The Producers plays at the Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, from January 14 to February 8, 2004. For show information visit www.producersomtour.com 

For ticket information on this and upcoming Merriam shows visit www.broadwayaccrossamarica.com or call 215.336.1234

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Pati Buehler Pati has been involved in various aspects of theater for about 25 years; from writing reviews and interviews for the past 10 years to producing theater events. Pati also runs PB Entertainment Agency working with several Broadway and Regional performers booking workshops/Master classes, concerts and theater programs for high schools, colleges and theater groups. She also works raising funds for non profit organizations. www.pbentertainmentinc.com


 
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