BWW Reviews: THE PRODUCERS - A Smash Hit for Centre Stage

BWW Reviews: THE PRODUCERS - A Smash Hit for Centre Stage

A big, ambitious musical like "The Producers" was a great choice to help Centre Stage in Greenville (S.C.) celebrate its 30th season.

What a delight to report that the production, which opened Thursday, is a smashing success, a frolicking romp of inspired silliness.

A terrific local cast of more than two dozen delivers Mel Brooks' bawdy, ebullient, Tony Award-winning spectacle with unbridled zest and commitment.

The 2001 show centers on a down-on-his-luck producer, Max Bialystock (Mike Gallagher), and a nerdy accountant, Leo Bloom (Todd Weir), who concoct a plan to create a flop on Broadway and flee to Rio with lucre from the investors.

To ensure failure, they seek out and find the worst musical ever written, a paean to the Third Reich called "Springtime for Hitler." Alas, things don't go as planned.

Brooks' witty, effervescent score includes several irresistible tunes and rousing show-stoppers.

But from the beginning, "The Producers" posed a huge challenge to Centre Stage: how to accommodate multiple sets and props on the theater's relatively intimate stage.

Director Glenda ManWaring, the cast and all involved seem to have taken as their motto the title of one of the show's more fetching numbers, "We Can Do It."

Yes, they can.

ManWaring gives "Producers" a sparkling, focused energy and irrepressible momentum that never flags over the course of this relatively long show - two hours and 45 minutes, with intermission.

The musical is a tour de force for two actors and Centre Stage is lucky to have a duo of theatrical veterans on the task: Gallagher and Weir.

Gallagher, the nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, makes Max a thoroughly lovable rogue. As you watch Max stalk the stage and scheme with wild-eyed exuberance, you realize that underneath the exterior of this unprincipled scoundrel beats the heart of - well, an unprincipled scoundrel. Still, Gallagher's brash Max projects gleeful chutzpah and resilience, along with a resonant baritone, and he's wonderfully funny. A highlight: Gallagher releases the Kraken of Max's indignation in the roaring "Betrayed."

Weir's Leo, meanwhile, is utterly sympathetic and charming, shy and slumped at the beginning, the sort of ordinary guy who longs to break out of his dull routine and do something special for once - like run away to Rio with a beautiful blonde. As he's demonstrated in previous shows, the nimble Weir conveys comic desperation like no one else.

Chelsea Ann Atkins, as the captivating Swedish secretary Ulla, is dynamite, soaring particularly on her big number "When You've Got It, Flaunt It."

Jonathan Kilpatrick brings suave flamboyance and a ringing tenor to the role of Roger DeBris, the worst Broadway director alive.

Jenson Titus Lavallee plays Roger's "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia with smooth assurance, offering a fine, lyrical account of the song "Springtime for Hitler."

The always impressive David Bean is marvelous, embracing the role of Franz Liebkind, the Nazi author of "Springtime for Hitler," with full-throttle gusto.

The rest of the cast is first-rate. The ensemble numbers are thrilling. The entire show is accompanied by a recorded soundtrack that's quite decent.

Kimberlee Ferreira's choreography is bright and exhilarating. Janice Issa Wright is responsible for the tight music direction. Costume designer Thomas Brooks and the rest of the technical team do yeoman's work. The costumes and sound/lighting cues must number in the hundreds.

At the show I saw, there were some technical glitches and a microphone or two failed at various points. These problems are easily forgivable given the overall outstanding quality of the production.

Theater-goers should note: Brooks is famously an equal-opportunity offender. The show contains adult language and is intended for mature audiences only.

This wickedly beguiling "The Producers" continues at Centre Stage through April 19. For tickets, call 864-233-6733.

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Paul Hyde Paul Hyde, a longtime journalist, currently serves as the Arts Writer with The Greenville (S.C.) News and Southeast Editor of the website Classical Voice North America. Paul was an editorial writer/columnist with The Greenville News for nine years. He has held many other positions in journalism, including reporter, photographer, editor of a small-town newspaper, editor of a monthly arts journal, and editorial page editor of The Anderson Independent-Mail. His articles and commentaries have appeared in a variety of newspapers, including USA Today, the Houston Chronicle, Houston Post and Dallas Morning News. A native of Houston, Paul has enjoyed a lively second career as a singer, actor, conductor and stage director.

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