BWW Review: Theatre by the Sea's Oddly Timely THE PRODUCERS
THE PRODUCERS has the odd pedigree of being a movie (1967) that became a Broadway musical (2001) and then returned to the silver screen as a movie version of the 2001 musical (2005). With this many iterations on offer, it's clear that this is a show with staying power that is beloved by many. The mind of Mel Brooks is a twisted space to spend some time in, but even the subtle cringiness that comes with good satire doesn't last long, as the laughs keep coming. It can be difficult to find humor in mocking Nazis so close on the heels of the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, VA, but it's still very satisfying too, probably even more than when the musical premiered. Even so, there is a bit of queasiness that comes from looking at so many swastikas, and it's hard to shake.
The story of THE PRODUCERS is a classic tale of greed, lust and Nazis. Veteran theatre producer Max Bialystock (Joel Briel) was once called the King of Broadway, but his recent show opened and closed on the same night. Through a chance meeting with accountant Leo Bloom (Richard Lafleur), Bialystock realizes that he could theoretically make more money with a show that flops than with a hit, by raising the same amount of money, spending less on the show, and then pocketing the rest. The two of them set out to find the most surefire flop, eventually settling on the musical "Springtime for Hitler", which is the magnum opus of former Nazi Franz Liebkind, played with an earnest sincerity by A.G. Parks.
Briel and Lafleur are a good pairing as Bialystock and Bloom, and they have an excellent rapport. Sabrina Harper slinks and sparkles (in the twinkle of an eye way) as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who gets hired to be the office secretary, and who quickly falls into romance with Bloom. Her performance is particularly delightful and her comic timing is right on the nose.
Stuart Marland is hilariously campy as Roger De Bris, the "worst director in New York", who Max and Leo seek out to direct "Springtime for Hitler". The sets by Kyle Dixon are almost overwhelming at certain points, especially when mirrors are used very well to amplify the number of things on stage. There are seemingly more sets than usual in this musical, and all of them are exquisitely crafted with enormous attention to detail that's a pleasure to see.
Despite the talented performers, this musical does drag quite a bit. Clocking in at nearly three hours, it feels like quite a few things could have been cut and tightened to make for a more compelling show. A lot of that is just due to the musical itself, which has some catchy tunes (music and lyrics by Mel Brooks), but seems obviously retrofitted at certain points to be something it wasn't intended to be. It's rather unfortunate that this musical is so bloated, because the film it's based on is pretty much perfect. Still, this is a show to see at least once, and Theatre by the Sea has done a good job with the sprawling source material.
THE PRODUCERS playing at Theatre By The Sea, in Wakefield, RI, thru September 10. Tickets are $46 - $72. Tickets are available to purchase by phone (401) 782-8587, online at theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879.