BWW Review: THE PRODUCERS Presents Pandemonium, Puns and Performance At Its Best at The Lex Theatre
Presented by Celebration, The Los Angeles Intimate Theatre Premiere of "The Producers" opened Friday, June 28, 2019 at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood to a sold-out crowd and garnered a deserved standing ovation at curtain.
It's RuPaul meets Mel Brooks in this delicious rendition of a show that's been recreated a gazillion times, but I assure you, never quite like this!
From top to bottom, the entire production was first class, perfectly cast with triple-threaters, going all out in production values as well.
The original book, by Mel Brooks, Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman, Music by Thomas Meehan and Lyrics by Mel Brooks has been united with the Artistic Direction of Michael A. Shepperd, Produced by Andrew Carlberg and Rebecca Eisenberg, Michael Matthews, Director, Musical Direction by Anthony Zediker and fabulous Choreography by Janet Roston. And What a Team!
We open up on a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, played masterfully by Richardson Jones, and his neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, portrayed by Christopher Jewell Valentin, also "right on the money," scheming to "produce" (but not with THEIR money) a purposeful "flop," cooking the books so they can embezzle $200 million for themselves.
Max is quite the gregarious, underhanded, loudmouth sleazy master of ceremonies in this devious plan and wheels and deals with everyone and everything he comes in contact with. The rapid pace the show moves with is inundated with jokes, slapstick, asides, minute-to-minute, keeping the laughs coming at breakneck speed. What really gives this production a special touch is the combination of exemplary direction, the ingenious choreography, the lively live musical accompaniment, the appropriately over-the-top sensational costuming by E. B. Brooks, the Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford, Sound by Cricket S. Meyers, Lighting by Matthew Brian Denman, creatively used Props by Michael O'Hara, and Tap Choreography by Steve Zee. When all of these factors join together with such meticulousness and pizazz, you can't miss!
The Lex Theatre is tiny, as theaters go, but this production fills every corner and niche with dazzling flair. From the opening downbeat to the grand finale, and I DO mean GRAND, it is a cornucopia of fun, a laughorama every second.
Not to be missed are the performances of the many characters involved ~ everyone in the cast brims with energy and enthusiasm, belting out the musical numbers with assurance and ease, and all are proficient and well-rehearsed in the slew of great production numbers.
The nuances in every department, be it a perfectly timed aside, the extra touches utilizing props and sight-gags, vaudeville crosses, the rich vocals with that extra oomph and commitment to their characters really give this production a perfect score.
I can't say enough about the choreography ~ there's a little of everything you can imagine and all so well done. The energy and enjoyment it adds to the show is immeasurable.
We follow Max and Leo, or Bialystock & Bloom through a plethora of musical numbers and scenes, one funnier and entertaining than the next, and meet all the other crazy characters involved. Mary Ann Welshans, as "Ulla" is completely adorable, sexy (in "When You've Got It") and a hell of an actress to boot, arriving first to audition for their new show, becoming their secretary/receptionist and so much more. She's got a great voice and moves, high kicks and has hutzpah to spare. She is a pivotal character throughout.
John Colella, as Franz Liebkind, the wacky, out-there Villager from Bavaria, who has written the prize script chosen that will hopefully become "The Worst Show in Town," is hysterical, acting out and singing his "Gutentag Hop Clop" dance, praising Hitler, in lederhosen, suspenders and a plastic black helmet, heil Hitler-ing every chance he gets, accompanied by German-named singing, bopping-to-the-music mechanical) birds, wearing swastikas on their chests. He teaches this funny routine to Max and Leo and it is even more robust when they are all doing it together, with a brisk thigh-slapping section, cartwheeling, clogging, with levity abounding as they all take a secret oath regarding their dastardly scheme.
One of the most hilarious scenes, albeit certainly not the last, is when they all go to visit Roger De Bris to convince him to direct and choreograph the newly-named production "Springtime for Hitler." A self-professed "Queen," he is a schmaltzy-to-the-max gay diva who is all razzle-dazzle and extremely demonstrative. Michael A. Shepperd (also the award-winning Artistic Director for the Lex Theatre) is to die for in the role. When he first appears, you are just blown away by his size and stature, his outrageous costuming and how he flaunts it. He lives up to this description every moment he is on stage.
But first, they are met at the door, after ringing the doorbell that chimes "I Feel Pretty," by Roger De Bris' Gloria Swanson devotee/assistant Carmen Ghia.
A more flamboyant housemaid/butler/dresser and runner of the house you will never see! The sweetest, most loyal
servant but with a bite, Andrew Diego was born for this role, and he works every moment to the nth degree. He is physically gorgeous, sings incredibly, dances and moves like a dream and is wearing wardrobe you'd sell your soul for. We're talking a top-notch, scene stealing performance, although each character continually tops the next, in that department.
They gather their production team, a motley crew, who convince Roger to be the Star of the production (Max persuading "think of 'Tony,'" as in "Award") and all celebrate with champagne as Roger signs the contract.
The singing and dancing ensemble, Brittany Bentley, Evan Borboa, Jasmine Ejan, Michael J. Marchak, Stephen Markarian, Angeline Mirenda, and Sarah Mulles play several characters each, and are all wonderful performers, switching gears many times to flesh out the story and add to the merriment, chaos and subliminal details.
I'm not divulging the ending, so I urge you to go find out for yourself. Some of the photos here will give you a clue or two...
It's a study in tongue-and-cheek comedy, all-out production numbers, quality performances... making everything click together for a fulfilling and fantastic opening night!
The production is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywoods' Arts Division.
Performances continue thru the projected extension of August 12th, but I wouldn't be surprised if it extends after that.
It will entertain you greatly.
Purchase tickets by calling 323.957.1884 or visit www.celebrationtheatre.com
Photos courtesy of Matthew Brian Denman