It’s hard to top something that is a comedic masterpiece to begin with, but in 2001 Mel Brooks took his own film and reimagined it for Broadway, changing the year of the setting, adding additional self-penned songs, and giving it a more upbeat feel. It works incredibly well. So well that its original run on Broadway lasted for 2,502 performances. The movie in 2005 with the original Broadway cast was not so good. The Producers is a stagey show that really needs to be seen in the theatre, so you’re in luck because you now have the opportunity to do so with a top-notch cast and incredible production values at the Paramount Aurora.
A word here about it, though. This is The Producers, the same show that in 1967 made hay with stereotype humor, crude innuendo, and theatrical in-jokes straight out of Brooks’ days in the borscht belt. If those aren’t to your taste, you’re probably not going to love this because it’s the same show, only more so. There are jokes aimed at dumb, sexy blondes, homosexuals, old ladies who retire to Florida, workplace tyrants, and especially Nazis.
It’s Mel Brooks. Subtle, he’s not. But also, because it’s Mel Brooks, it’s loaded with heart and genuine affection for almost everything he’s skewering. Except Nazis. Brooks hates Nazis. And the lines about Hitler just wanting to make Germany great again are more than a trifle pointed in this production.
The Producers hangs on the ability of its two main characters to sell the entire show (rimshot). As usual, at the Paramount, you’re in very, very good hands. Washed-up Broadway Producer Max Bialystock (played with amazing twinkly good-humor by Blake Hammond) and the accountant with a secret song in his heart, Leo Bloom, (a psychotically uptight Jake Morrissy) are each fully capable of commanding the stage when they’re the only one on it. And they are from time to time, but it’s really their relationship and interplay that is the heart of the show, and these two have great chemistry.
There’s no reason to rehash the well-known plot here, but from the opening revelation that there’s more money to be made in a flop than in a hit to the final triumph with another show, The Producers is a cavalcade of non-stop energy and amazing singing out of both its principles. Both can act up a storm and sing one up, too.
Hammond is both desperate and charismatic as Bialystock. You can see how he can persuade the little old ladies to finance flop after flop. He’s clearly a hustler – but that’s actually a Producer’s job, hustling up the financing for something- but he doesn’t seem really evil or sleazy and that works here wonderfully.
Morrissy is a far more neurotic Leo even than Gene Wilder in the original. When he becomes unhinged it’s actually scary, and he doesn’t forget to carry through with his nervousness in the rest of the play, either. And he’s really adorable and has an amazing voice.
All the side characters get scene-stealing turns and this cast makes the most of each one, including the superbly demented Ron E. Rains as playwright Franz Liebkind; Sean Blake with a fabulous turn as director Roger DeBris‑ the surprise star of Springtime for Hitler – the audience laughed the second he appeared in full uniform and it just got better from there; and the absolutely incredible Adam Fane as Carmen Ghia, who is truly, hilariously riveting every second he’s on stage.
It is entirely possible, however, that the breakout star of this show is actually Elyse Collier as Ulla. Ulla can be a thankless eye candy part in lesser hands, but here she’s every bit as delightful as the two leads she plays foil for. She sings and dances wonderfully, and is utterly charming as she brings Bloom a little out of his shell.
Ensemble members Sara Reinecke, Haley Jane Schafer, Sawyer Smith (while pulling double duty as dance and fight captain), Jason Richards, and Brandon Pisano all cover multiple featured roles and are backed by an incredibly talented and tight ensemble who are hilarious whether they’re playing showgirls, elderly marks, theatregoers, the dregs of the Theatre District, dancing Nazis, convicts, jurors or whatever else the play can throw at them.
And everyone is gloriously costumed by Jordan Ross, Lit by Jessie Klug (who actually gets to make a joke in the show with lights), and you can hear everything perfectly due to the work of Adam Rosenthal.
The set, as usual at the Paramount, is spectacular. Kudos to William Boles, especially the use of the half circle over the top of the stage.
And Director Jim Corti gets the most of out of his cast. The timing is perfect, the blocking is interesting and everything works to serve the show.
And maybe, that’s what Max and Leo got right, too. By attempting to make everything terrible, they ended up with a show where everything worked together to create something special. This version of The Producers certainly is that. Everything is on point. You should go and see it and prepare to laugh out loud.
The Producers runs from now until March 17. Get your tickets at the Paramount box office.
Photography by Liz Lauren.