BWW Reviews: Ivoryton Playhouse's THE PRODUCERS Has Got It and Flaunts It

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed by Julia Kiley
at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through July 31
www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

With a musical about a con artist trying to mount a flop show, Ivoryton Playhouse has ended up with a hit on its hands.  Unlike Mel Brooks' failed producer Max Bialystock, Ivoryton's charming theatre was aiming for a smash with The Producers and they have succeeded.  The Opening Night audience was doubled over with laughter throughout and it was gratifying to see the small shoreline company stretch well beyond its comfort zone with such a large, technically-complicated show.   Although Bialystock's shows generally send critics and audiences fleeing the theatre at intermission, audiences should hurry to quaint Ivoryton to see a revival of the show that won the most Tony Awards in history.

One would have to have lived under a large boulder to be unfamiliar with Mel Brooks' 2001 musicalization of his own 1968 film classic comedy.  The Broadway production was a runaway smash as long as its stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, were on the boards.  Ivoryton Playhouse, with a fraction of the Broadway budget, does a credible mounting.   Director Julia Kiley and choreographer J.R. Bruno have clearly done their research on Susan Stroman's Broadway production as their work generally apes the New York Producers.  Although the costume, set and lighting design do not approach the fully-loaded New York run, all of the necessary elements are in place for a fun, funny evening of Mel Brooks' nuttiness.

The story opens with Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer with more bombs on his hands than a terrorist, closing his latest show (Hamlet - The Musical) on its opening night.  He meets frustrated accountant Leopold "Leo" Bloom who is tired of his life as a number cruncher and dreams of a career as a Broadway producer.  Leo tells Max by over-financing a Broadway bomb, he could end up with enough money left over to be set for life.  Max decides to stage the most terrible play in history directed by the worst director known to man and cast with similarly untalented actors.  His concoction, a musical sympathetic to Adolf Hitler starring a Neo-Nazi and directed by the swishiest of homosexuals, is certain to do the job.  Of course, he takes Leo along for the ride to cook the books. Divorced from the star power of the New York production, it is easy to see that some of the humor can be occasionally creaky and the show could stand to be trimmed by 15 minutes, but Brooks' musical remains a giddy romp sure to offend as it delights.

Of course, for The Producers to produce the goods, it needs a crackerjack Max and Leo.  Ivoryton Playhouse has wisely cast R. Bruce Connelly as Bialystock.  And Connelly wisely makes no attempt to dial down Nathan Lane's kinetic, frenetic performance.  In fact, there are times when Connelly sounds just like Lane.  Michael McDermott's take on Leo Bloom is similarly inspired by Matthew Broderick's neurosis-addled performance.  Fortunately for McDermott, he is blessed with a stronger tenor than Ferris Bueller and matinee-idol good looks. 

William Broderick and Schuyler Beeman are scene-stealing standouts in the roles of the disastrous Director Roger DeBris and his lisping common-law assistant/houseboy  Carmen Ghia.  Broderick in particular brings the house down with his mincing "Springtime for Hitler" number.  Liz Clark Golson's buxom bombshell Ulla indeed has a big voice, big bazooms and legs for days.  No wonder Max and Leo both fall for her Scandinavian charms.  Mark Woodard's Franz Liebkind is serviceable but sails over-the-top on occasion (a hard feat to accomplish in this ham-fest of a show) and is saddled with three of the weaker numbers in the score.

The young ensemble hoofs and sings with aplomb, particularly in the big set piece numbers "Along Came Bialy" and "Springtime for Hitler" (both staged as pretty much-direct rips from the Broadway production).  The costumes designed by Vivianna Lamb are delicious (particularly the beer, pretzel and sausage showgirl outfits during "Springtime").  Joel Silvestro's wigs looked a little worse for the wear and could use a set-and-style stat.  Tony Andrea's sets range from serviceable to stellar but one must wonder what was the purpose of repurposing egg cartons to flank the stage (sound baffling, perhaps?).  John Sebastian DeNicola does a fantastic job making a 6- (7 on weekends) piece pit orchestra sound like a much larger ensemble. 

One could grouse that Ivoryton does not make enough of an effort to put its own stamp on The Producers, but it would be just that, grousing.  The show is not a sure-fire hit (as the flop film version attests), so it is to the small theatre's credit that they have stuffed this stellar revival on their stage with fewer resources.  Bravo to Ivoryton Playhouse for celebrating its 100th birthday with a big, gaudy, glitzy musical.  When you've got it, flaunt it.

Photo by Anne Hudson.

 

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From This Author Jacques Lamarre

Jacques Lamarre has worked in theatre for over 20 years. As a Public Relations/Marketing professional, he held positions at Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks Hartford and Yale (read more...)

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