Review: THE PRODUCERS at North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, Skokie, IL

The production runs through August 20.

By: Aug. 13, 2023
Review: THE PRODUCERS at North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, Skokie, IL
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Where did I go right?

In Mel Brooks’ 2001 musical, The Producers, that is the question Max Bialystock asks when his sure-to-be worst musical ever becomes a huge hit. The Producers is the 150th production by Music Theater Works and is presented at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie running through August 20. This is a BIG Broadway show. Brooks took his 1967 movie and turned into a musical after talking with record producer David Geffen. Brooks wrote the music and lyrics. He also wrote the book with Thomas Meehan.

The familiar tale has producer Max Bialystock (Thomas M. Shea in his 30th production) looking for a new show to produce after Funny Boy closed in one night. Enter Leo Bloom (David Geinosky in a masterful performance), an accountant auditing Max’ books. While Leo is auditing, an elderly woman investor pays Max a visit. He tells Leo to hide in the bathroom until she leaves. The two play a sex game whereby Max persuades her to give him a check for his next investment.

After she leaves, Leo discovers an error in Max’ books. Max persuades Leo to hide the discrepancy. Leo agrees and after some calculations, discovers a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. Max proposes they find the worst musical ever written, hire the worst director and actors, raise two million dollars from elderly women, produce it, close it as a flop and escape to Rio with the money. Leo quits his accountant job and the next day they start looking for the most offensive play.

They find Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, a tribute written by ex-Nazi soldier Franz Liebkind (Sam Nachison’s debut with MTW and what a debut). After Max and Leo take a solemn oath to never dishonor Hitler’s spirit or memory, Franz divulges that Hitler’s middle name was Elizabeth. They find the worst director, Roger De Bris (played to the hilt by Steve McDonagh) and his assistant Carmen Ghia (Eustace J. Williams perfectly complimenting Steve). Roger agrees to direct as long as the second act is written so the Germans win the War and that the play be more gay.

Leo and Max return to their office to meet Swedish beauty Ulla Inga Hansen and 6 more names (Kelsey MacDonald in her MTW debut) who wants to audition for their next show. Ulla begins to dance and does a leg extension I have not seen since Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain. Max and Leo hire her as a clerical worker to keep her around. Max leaves to call elderly women from all over New York and succeeds in raising the $2 million.

The second act is highlighted by the big production of Springtime for Hitler. Roger De Bris plays Hitler. He breaks the 4th wall by sitting at the edge of the stage talking to the audience.  It is comic genius. Max gets busted for lying about his books. Leo marries Ulla and goes to Rio. They return to help Max out. At the end of the story, Leo and Max are now producing hit after hit. Leo has always wanted a producer’s hat. Max obliges. At the end of the curtain call, the cast breaks into one last song telling the audience to leave.

Mel has written a show to offend everyone but everyone is laughing so no one is really offended. He always said the best way to get back at Hitler is to make fun of him. Revenge is so sweet!

Director L. Walter Stearns has brought Brooks’ vision to life in the way it was meant to be seen. Musical conductor Eugene Dizon and the amazing orchestra bring the music to full volume as it was intended. Choreographer Darryl K. Clark has this cast dancing and tapping through the story with no abandon.

Back to the original question – where did I go right? Apparently, the answer is everywhere. This is a show to be enjoyed. MTW and North Shore have a hit on their hands. Mel Brooks would be applauding from the back of the house as any producer would do. Hat or no hat!


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