BWW Reviews: Woodminster's THE PRODUCERS Shines Now Thru August 16

By: Aug. 10, 2015

Woodminster Summer Musicals celebrated opening night of The Producers, the hit Broadway musical based on the 1968 Mel Brooks film of the same name. With a Book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Score by Brooks, The Producers won 12 out of its 15 Tony nominations in 2001. It tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer and his nervous accountant, who together come up with a scheme to make a million dollars (each) by producing the worst flop in Broadway history. They embark on a search to find the worst script, the worst director, the worst designers, and the worst actors. The scheme backfires, with many comic consequences, when their gloriously offensive Springtime for Hitler turns out to be a huge hit. Running now through August 16 at Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park, The Producers is one show you won't want to miss.

Greg Carlson revels in his role as Max Bialystock, the scheming Broadway producer who's resorted to "schtupping" blue hairs in return for them backing his shows. When uptight accountant Leo Bloom, played by the superb John Tichenor, arrives to do the books, Max puts together a plan to cook the books for his next show and make them both rich in the process. And thus, the show-within-a-show, Springtime for Hitler, is born.

Insanity ensues, with plenty of vaudevillian-esque gags (delivered by gloriously outrageous characters) and big dance numbers (Erica Hartano's choreography excelled at capturing Stroman's original). Costumes by Lisa Danz was delightful and really set the mood well. The ensemble cast does everything from dancing Nazis to shimmering showgirls, not to mention gay Village people (from Greenwich Village) and sophisticated theatre-goers. But it's the geriatric ladies performing a number with their aluminum walkers that truly brought the house down!

And what show about Hitler would be complete without Hitler himself? Calvin Smith is positively brilliant as the flamboyant Roger Debris who is tapped by Max to direct Springtime and ends up playing Hitler to his and our great delight. His assistant Carmen Ghia (the perfectly swishy Nick Nakashima) deserves a nod here too! Edward Hightower has the plummy role of Springtime's playwright Franz Liebkind who is also a crazed Führer fanatic who raises pigeons on a rooftop in the Village. (A cameo by the Swastika-wearing pigeons almost steals the scene!)

It's wonderful to watch Leo Bloom's character arc from nervous, pencil-pushing accountant to the wanna-be producer who ends up getting the girl. And what a girl. Melissa Reinerston plays the Swedish bombshell Ulla, who winds up seducing the late-blooming Leo, helping him to complete his metamorphosis.

My complaints about this show are small but pointed. The sets were unsophisticated and clunky and there were several points where the crew could be seen running behind them. Sound was an issue on opening night and the balance was off at times, with the orchestra sounding muted while the leads were sometimes masked by the ensemble. Woodminster recently installed a new sound system so these issue will resolve themselves, I'm sure. Come prepared for hard, plastic seats and temperature variations. Seasoned theater-goes brought cushions and blankets with them. But not to worry, hoodies and hats were on sale, with proceeds going to continue the fine productions Woodminster produces.

If you haven't been to the East Bay to see one of their summer musicals, then you're missing out on something magical. This hidden gem nestled among the trees and the stars high in the Oakland hills was built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration project and seats 1500 patrons. Make sure to take a walk behind the theatre and see the cascading waterfalls and reflection pools. They don't make 'em like they used to. Come early and enjoy a wine and cheese picnic at one of the many picnic tables surrounding the venue, then sit back and enjoy the laugh-out-loud hilarity of The Producers.

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Now thru August 16
Dress in layers and call for accessibility (510-531-9597)
Photo courtesy of Kathy Kahn

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