BWW Review: Politically Incorrect with Nazi Musical THE PRODUCERS is Hysterical at Carrollwood Players Theatre
At the close of the performance, my face hurt from laughing, but what else would you expect from a musical with the name Mel Brooks attached. This over-the-top and exquisitely offensive masterpiece, with everything from the producer's casting couch, grossly stereotypical ultra-sexy foreign female secretary/actress, sex-crazed old ladies to syrupy-sweet gay characters to literally, singing and dancing Nazis, this show is the antithesis to today's political correctness. The Producers at Carrollwood Players has something to make everyone do a little squirm in their seats and I loved every purposely-uncomfortable minute of this madcap story that revels in Mel Brook's irreverent humor.
Winner of twelve Tony Awards, Mel Brooks said of The Producers in a 2001 interview, "I was never crazy about Hitler...If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win...That's what they do so well: they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can't win. You show how crazy they are."
Once the king of Broadway producers, Max Bialystock (Constantine Kyriakou), is but a moment away from financial ruin after his latest disaster, Funny Boy, a musical based on Hamlet. In a hypothetical conversation with a meek accountant Leo Bloom (Alexander Genaro Garcia), Max discovers he doesn't need a hit. He can profit more from a flop. He teams with Leo who dreams of becoming a theater producer to produce the most awful, unredeemable musical ever written with a heinous director and even worse talent to ensure its immediate demise and incredibly lucrative payout. After sifting through dozens of scripts, proud Nazi Franz Liebkind (Joe Pauly) provides the outstanding option in Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.
From the first note of The Producers' "It's Opening Night," we knew we were in good hands with the team of director Gabe Flores, assistant director Brooke Wendt, musical director Lynn Cammareri, choreographer Theresa Colado, and stage manager Rachel Sallustio. A perfect set built by Anne Tully, dressed by Chelsie Camaro Smith - the backdrop of a New York skyline, with props by Barb Trax, lighting, spot and sound by Ryan Farnsworth, Alicia Spiegel, Pat and Connie Jones, David Fraga and Brooke Wendt, combined with seamless set changes that kept the shows flow on pace with no lags. Costumes by Deb Lastinger, especially in the finale, were flawless. Excluding the music overpowering the vocals at times, good voices combined with great voices to make the night an extraordinary, fun experience from start to finish.
In true Mel Brooks fashion, everything and everyone portrayed was fair game for an exaggerated portrayal.
Let's talk about Constantine in his first lead musical role as the main Broadway producer. I think, simply put, Constantine was born to play Max. With his large personality and booming voice, he commanded the stage. Whether playing slightly serious or over-the-top comedic moments like funding for the whimsical take on the Third Reich comes primarily from a large group of sex-starved silver-haired walker-pushing grannies, Constantine wore the role as easily as the hat upon his head. I would easily see him a contender for Best Actor in a Musical at Carrollwood Player's annual season Nancy Awards gala.
As Leo, Alexander was the perfect neurotic, prone to hysterics, beloved-blue-blanket-clutching complement to Max in both comedic chops and vocals. Alexander's performance in "I Wanna Be a Producer" was one of the many standouts of this zany production.
With a first name as long as her legs, Ulla Inga Hansen-Bensen-Yanson-Tallen-Hallen-Svaden-Swanson not only captivated Leo but the audience. With beauty and pipes, Chelsie Camaro Smith, also in her Carrollwood Players musical debut, was delightful as the Swedish actress who used her assets to wiggle her way into the production. "When You've Got It, Flaunt It" showcased Chelsie as a combination of comedy gold and powerhouse vocals.
Now that I've seen him in the role, I can picture no one else. Who else but Joe Pauly could pull off the role of a New York, pigeon-keeping Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind? Reminiscent of Schultz in Hogan's Heroes, towering veteran actor Joe had great comedic chops and easily filled the Monty Python-inspired shoes as the writer, and later lead, in Springtime for Hitler. Franz forces the two producers to wear a swastika band on their sleeve and recite the "Siegfried Oath" before signing away his musical rights. His German accent and spectacular performances as "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" and "Haben Sie gehört das Deutsche Band?" ("Have You Ever Heard the German Band?") were more silly highlights of the production.
With rights secured, Max and Leo hit up the inept director Roger Debris, Ryan Bintz in his Carrollwood Players return after two years. Ryan shined as the swishy director who doesn't realize the two are counting on him to fail. "Keep It Gay" was a star moment in this hysterical production.
Prior to reaching the director, Max and Leo must first make it past his lover/assistant Carmen Ghia. Diego Rosado was exceptionally cast as Carmen, a sibilant that could give The Bird Cage's houseboy Agador a run for his money.
What is the worst thing you can do before the opening of any theatre performance? Anyone in the theatre would know you never wish "good luck," rather "break a leg." Never. Ever. Ever. When Leo says this and Max repeatedly says good luck out of hearing distance, going as far as petting a black cat, Franz succumbs to the curse and breaks his leg.... which should have technically closed the show because Hitler had no understudy.
Enter Ryan to steal the show as the Fuhrer with a limp-wristed "Heil!" The result is an offputtingly upbeat and utterly tasteless musical play about the home life of the brutal dictator. It opens with a lavish production of the title song, "Springtime for Hitler," which celebrates Nazi Germany crushing Europe ("Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Winter for Poland and France"). Nothing will prepare you for the spectacle that included showgirls in Nazi regalia with a sausage, pretzel and a beer stein on their heads.
Though comedy dominates, there's also room for some heartwarming moments of love and friendship, such as Leo and Ulla's "That Face," and Max and Leo's courtroom duet, "'Til Him."
To mention the leads but leave out the equally-matched ensemble would be a tremendous disservice to an exceptionally talented cast. Kaileen Barreto, Aaron Binder, Richard Brown, Lydia Challenger, Emily Cockerill, Becca Collins, Ryan Drew Donaldson, Nicholas Hastings, Chris McDermott, Elsie Michelle Mendez, Liza Pasha, Kody Ramirez, and Katie Welch were spectacular in a multitude of roles throughout the production.
What happens when a purported guaranteed failure becomes an unexpected sensation and the producers must face the consequences of their failed conspiracy? Be prepared, in Mel Brook's own words, to be "brought down with laughter." Get your tickets to see the hysterical farcical unapologetic musical The Producers. In today's crazy climate, this insanity is exactly what we need.