BWW Reviews: THE PRODUCERS - It's Springtime (for Hitler) All Over Again at York Little Theatre

By: Jul. 15, 2013
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It ran on Broadway for six years - not PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, but not too shabby, either. It copped a record twelve Tony awards - not nominations, but awards, finally beating the record left by HELLO DOLLY and its 10 Tonys 37 years previously. It gave us Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, together at last. Its costumes by William Ivey Long are on display at the Costume World Broadway Collection. It's probably the most successful Broadway show to be based on a film, so successful that there's even a film of the show based on the original film - no kidding. What do you want? It's Mel Brooks' greatest hit.

"It," of course, is THE PRODUCERS, by Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, and Doug Besterman, quite possibly the most outrageously amusing show ever conceived. It's a glorious, over-the-top celebration of bad taste, schlock, and... funny Nazis. If you are easily offended by middle-aged producers raising seed money for shows by schtupping desperate, lonely old ladies, it is not your show. If you are easily offended by the staging of musical Nazi salutes to Hitler produced by a couple of Jewish shysters, it is not your show. If you are easily offended by gay drag queen directors who think Nazi uniforms look better with sequins, this is definitely not your show.

If, on the other hand, you think that putting a bunch of stage Nazis in sequins and having them dancing with pretty girls wearing pretzel and beer headdresses is the biggest laugh in the universe and a pretty good slap at Hitler while they're at it, welcome aboard; this is your musical. It's at York Little Theatre right now, and it's tacky, it's over the top, it's offensive to all sense of good taste or propriety, and it's completely preposterous. And this is possibly the only show in which none of those is a criticism, but a cheer. After all - it's Mel Brooks we're talking about.

For those few people who may be unacquainted with the funniest show plot in history: Max Bialystock, washed-up producer, and his accountant Leo Bloom figure out that a high-budget show going under is the fastest way to get rich improperly, as the investors won't expect to see any money back - it's hits that can hurt the personal bankbook. So they set forth to stage the world's worst play, one guaranteed to be a disaster - but the combination of awful elements, rather than producing an abomination, produces an immediate camp classic - not being a failure, they owe the investors a huge amount of money, and they need to run with the leftover money before they get caught and have to pay up. Along the way to fame and ruin, they meet an incredible assortment of characters.

Max and Leo are played with surprising charm and incredible stamina by Randy Stamm and Lyle Hieronymus, who in their disparate sizing look like nothing so much as the Laurel and Hardy of Broadway production, a thought only complemented by Max Bialystock's hat. (Leo will earn one eventually, but, as Max explains, it's a producer's hat, and you're not a producer until your first show opens.) The Swedish secretary they don't know they need until they meet her, Ulla (and about six more names following), is played by Rachel Ann Morgan with the clear determination of living up to her introductory song, "If You've Got It, Flaunt It." Though the song demands more English than one might suspect Ulla knows, nonetheless it's an amazing performance, with all the flaunting one might require. Morgan, new to the YLT stage, comes with professional theatre experience, and it shows.

Director Roger DeBris, the worst director on Broadway, and his "common law assistant" Carmen Ghia, are YLT veterans Christopher Quigley, another professional actor, and Bradlee Gorrera. It is always a delight to see either of them on stage, and they're even funnier together than they can be on their own. Gorrera, who's departing for college, will be missed. He's nearly a clone of the original movie Carmen, Andreas Voutsinas (an almost forgotten but incredible actor), minus the beard, and is the perfect foil for Quigley's queen of Broadway. There are few parts big enough for Quigley's stage persona at its biggest and brassiest, but Roger is one of them; his Roger owns the stage when he's on it... though his costumes surely help with that. World War Two has never had so many rhinestones. Also aiding with the chaos is Andrew Matseur as Franz Liebkind, Nazi courier pigeon breeder and playwright. Kudos to the props crowd for his pigeons, incidentally, including his beloved pigeon Adolf. Matseur might want to watch his type casting however - first Ernst Ludwig in CABARET, now Franz Leibkind... but Ludwig was never so funny.

The set designer, Ray Olewiler, and the very large set crew must be commended for pulling off one of the most elaborate collections of set work YLT has seen recently, from Bialystock's office sets to the stage set for "Springtime For Hitler" and all points between. Choreographers Catherine Howard and Priscilla Jarrell have also put forth some really fine effort here, especially in staging "Springtime For Hitler" and "Prisoners Of Love". Rene Staub, the director, has done some tremendous casting work for this show, which is one of the best-cast at YLT recently (CABARET was also fabulously cast), and has also kept the show tight, kept it moving, and, in the words of Roger and Carmen, "kept it gay".

As with YLT's CABARET, this production of THE PRODUCERS is a good example of what community theatre can be when everything comes together. Staub, as YLT's new Director of Artistic Services, is off to a good start with this. He's experienced and has a fairly clear directorial vision, which is what much community theatre lacks. He's also willing to remain true to the original vision of the show, which is critical in the case of THE PRODUCERS to maintaining its raucous, raunchy, slapstick portrayal of the good old days of Broadway.

At York Little Theatre through July 21. Call 717-854-5715 or visit www.ylt.org for tickets.

Photo Credit: Scott Miller


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