The Producers, Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks. Directed by John Saunders. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Daniel Dunlow, Jim Kidd, Michael McAssey; photo: Barbara Peduzzi
"Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band? . . .mit der Zing!"
For Leo Bloom (Daniel Dunlow) meeting Max Bialystock (Michael McAssey) is a true game-changer. Leo has never before had a friend. He has never before been so close to his dream of a life worth living. For Leo Bloom meeting Max Bialystock is the equivalent of falling in love and when Leo actually does fall in love it is the equivalent of riding a volcano. How successful is the newfound friendship. . .well, that's the story of "The Producers" now on stage at the Mac-Haydn Theater in Chatham, New York.
Peopled with personalities and nothing more this musical is a skillfully collected assortment of oddballs and weirdos who define a level of show business that most folks never know. The men who define our tastes for us are at the center of things: Max and Leo. Standing close by are the director Roger DeBris (Gabe Belyeu) and his consort Carmen Ghia (Marc de la Concha), playwright and actor Franz Liebkind (Jim Kidd) and the Swedish Secretary Ulla (Emily Louise Franklin). These folks are living and breathing satirical parodies of people and not real people at all. Brooks has created them out of people he has known and his goal is to make us laugh at these personalities, laugh at their variations on reality. Under the deft direction of John Saunders, Brooks and company have successfully completed their mission.
"Keep it funny; keep it lively; keep it gay!" is the principal sentiment of this show and the excellent cast does exactly that. They make the comedy ring. Their tempo is in definite overtime; the show is as gay as they get; in fact, not since "La Cage aux Folles" has there been such a definitively Gay show. The straightest people in the play are women over seventy-five, all of whom are having sex, or at least sex games, with Max Bialystock. Their checks finance his career as a producer and he doesn't even have to fully produce for them to fork over the bucks.
McAssey is wonderful throughout the evening without a misstep or a Nathan Lane impression to bolster him. His Max is closer to Orson Welles than anyone has ever been and that feels like just the right direction to have taken. Bigger than life and twice as corrupt emotionally, McAssey's Max is a pin-head-dancing devil who knows how to get what he wants and so it is almost disturbing when he is finally arrested. But like any modern amateur cook who takes direction from a TV show chef McAssey's man is ready for the next step on his road to ruinous success. You can almost see him wiping down the ceiling after the crockpot explodes.
Daniel Dunlow's animated face and body make his version of Leo Bloom into a wondrous, inescapable legend. It is as though he arrives, and arrives again after an office disaster, already completed and not in any need of finessing. His Leo is ready for the challenge and more than willing to earn his Producer's floppy hat. Watching him fall in love is a joy and his singing and dancing are excellently entertaining. Dunlow is one actor I will be watching for in future years. He is quite ready to move on to bigger and better things, and soon.
McAssey's has a tight grip on Max Bialystock who emerges full-blown from the outset. The man is large and mustachioed and just rough enough around the edges and McAssey presents him as an old friend, often seen and visited with, someone we already know. Then he hands us a surprise: the man can really sing. He leaves us wishing for more, an enviable trait for an actor. This is echoed in the work Emily Louise Franklin performs as Ulla. Her costumes cleverly extend her posterior, I believe, but everything else about her is one hundred percent real. Her grasp on the physical comedy is exceded only by her delectable accent which makes us laugh with every syllable.
Gabe Belyeu again brings large, oversized guffaws into use as he portrays the very jolly director Roger DeBris. He hands in a totally honest interpretation of a difficult character and it is his ease with the demands of the part that provides inspiration for laughter. Belyeu is, to be brief about it, perfection in every way. As his "assistant" the company has Marc de la Concha playing Carmen Ghia. The single most exaggerated personality in the play, de la Concha gives him life and honesty through the silliest of sybilant gestures. Together these two men provide a deliriously delightful picture of perverse propriety.
Equally good as the Nazi playwright is Jim Kidd. His Franz Liebkind is not the most extreme nut I've ever seen, but he is a practicing fruitcake all the same. Libby Bruno is as perfectly disgusting a lecherous old lady as anyone could imagine. Jordan Bunshaft has a good time playing Marks, Markowitz and the Judge. The rest of the large cast handle all of their roles with alacrity.
Once again the biggest star of the show at the Mac-Haydn is Jimm Halliday whose costumes seem to provide a never-ending parade of ridiculous loveliness. Kevin Gleason's set is grand with posters of Bialystock produced hits such as "Ukelele on the Roof," "When Cousins Marry," and "The Breaking Wind." Gleason also provides a very professional lighting design plot which doubly enhances the look of this show. Josh D. Smith conducts his ensemble well and the choreography by Sebeastiani Romagnolo is remarkable considering the sizes of the stage and the company.
It is John Saunders who holds all of this together. His direction never falters. His handling of the physical comedy is the best. His sense of timing makes the whole thing work throughout the three hours of the production. The show never feels long, never drags, never tires. His indefatigable energy holds it all together.
I am not the world's biggest fan of "The Producers" and I had the best time at this Mac-Haydn presentation. If I said anything else I would be throwing a curveball into the mix. I had the best possible time.
The Producersplays through August 23 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 State Route 203, Chatham, NY. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org