“The Producers” has a three day run at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, and one can only wonder why Mel Brooks’ irreverent musical is not on an extended run at The Ahmanson. In 1968 Brooks wrote and directed “The Producers” with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and received the Academy Award for best original screenplay. In 2001, Brooks, as writer, composer, and lyricist was awarded three Tony Awards for “the Producers”. Thomas Meehan received a Tony Award for co-writing the book with Mel Brooks. Choreographer, Susan Stroman directed the film of the musical in 2005 with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and “The Producers” is still going strong. The Hollywood Bowl audience loved it Saturday night. If one could bottle the laughter and joy and take a dose every now and then it would be the best tonic to chase the blues away. Yes, “The Producers” is irreverent and silly but it is pure Mel Brooks at his absolute best.
Richard Kind, who gave his all and was so energetic seemed to be channeling Brooks as Max Bialystock. (Mel Brooks, Max Bialystock both with M. B.) His facial expressions were priceless. Max Bilaystock is the flamboyant Broadway producer and seducer of little old ladies who give him “checkies” and back his plays. He has to fabricate strange fantasies with them as “TheVirgin Milkmaid and the Well Hung Stable Boy.” Only, he has had a big Broadway flop. Kind’s Bialystock is aided and abetted by his side-kick, the nebbish accountant, Leo Bloom, a nerdy nobody who dreams of being a producer, so well played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson. I loved his hysterics and his compulsion with his little blue blanket. “You’re mistaking me for someone who has a spine.”
We had Terrace Box seats and the multiple screens brought the actors’ faces right to us. Occasionally, Kind adlibbed and it worked. There was a mike glitch after the conga number and it was obvious something was amiss as the orchestra kept playing the number while we waited for the actors. The audience got a little restless. Kind finally came onstage and quipped, “The traffic was unbelieveable.” “Does Neil Diamond ever have this problem?” He got a big laugh and resumed in character.
The entire ensemble cast was “fantabulous”, and all seemed to be having such a good time. There were many instances where they were breaking up and trying not to laugh. It was deliciously “over-the-top” and perfect! Roger Bart’s Carmen Ghia was so delightfully fey and gay, and he was having a great time as the character. His mincing little steps and gestures were hysterical. He is “the common law assistant” to Gary Beech’s Roger De Bris, the cross dressing “worst director” imaginable. When De Bris came down the steps onto the stage in his silver and black glittering gown as Anastasia with a slit showing his thin legs in high heels, the audience roared. What a fun character! He commented, “I look more like the Chrysler Building.” I loved the tiara in his longish grey locks. He hiked up his skirt and tottered on his shaky pins and was so funny. The number “Keep It Gay” with Carmen Ghia, De Bris, and his production team was priceless. Beeches’ gay Adolph Elizabeth Hitler also was a smashing number. His every nuance, from his facial expression to his limp wrists, and body language evoked gales of laughter. Add the scene stealer, Dane Cook’s Franz Liebkind and his geese into the mix and it was non-stop laughter. Like the others, Cook gave 110% to his role and gave us the zaniness, and craziness of the character. Just the mention of Franz Liebkind’s name set the audience off in titters.
Rebecca Romijn’s Ulla rounded out the cast. This very tall, leggy blonde as the dumb, but beautiful Swedish Ulla, who becomes the receptionist and secretary to Bilaystock and Bloom added another comedic element and Romijn did a very credible job. She went in and out of her Swedish accent, but that added to the silliness. Her stand out song “When You Got It, Flaunt It” showed off her curves. So, if she couldn’t sing that well, her body language was fine.
There were so many clever production numbers. One that stands out to me is where Bialystock has to seduce his little old ladies. They all come on stage with their silver walkers and Stroman’s very clever and original choreography which had the little old ladies doing a “stomp” number with their walkers showed such imagination! I think it topped the big “Springtime for Hitler” number for me or was a close second. De Bris in “Hotsie Totsie Nazi” ala Ehtel Merman brought the house down.
The premise for this play within a musical is that after producer, Max Bialystock had a big flop, his nerdy accountant, Leo Bloom, tells him he can make a bundle with a deliberate flop if he raises two million dollars. He will need the worst script, the worst director and actors. Bialystock partners with Bloom to produce the biggest sure-winner flop in “Springtime for Hitler in Germany.” Franz Liebkind’s play is sure to offend and close right after opening night. To guarantee the musical will be a flop, the duo hire flaming gay director Roger De Bris and his team. Liebkind even gets to portray his Furher. But, “break a leg” turns out to be what Liebkind does as he falls down a set of stairs so, uber gay director, Roger De Bris fills in and we get the gay version of the macho Hitler. Against all odds, the musical is an astounding success. And, that means jail time for our producers. But, as you will see, it is not the end of the musical. Hey, Bialystock can produce in prison and he does with “Prisoners of Love.”
The story is really an excuse for Brooks’ crazy characters, off color one liners, wonderful production numbers with leggy gals in scant glittery costumes and Susan Stroman’s exacting directing and superlative choreography. Stroman used the Bowl’s screens to show passage of time, and Busby Berkley type aerial shots of the dance numbers that were very effective. William Ivey Long’s show girls in sausage, beer, and pretzel costumes in the Hitler number were spectacular. I loved Roger De Bris glitzy gown. And Carmen Ghia’s stand-up messy hair added much to his character. Robin Wagner’s set of the Shubert Alley on opening night gave the cast a great arena to romp in. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by musical director Kevin Stites, was on platforms to the left and right. There were two stairways for the actors to come down and for the finale’ a large center stairway was added. Tom Ruzika’s lighting design added much to the overall effect of excitement and fun.
“The Producers” is an original like no other musical. The book, the music, the songs and lyrics, provided a playground for the fine ensemble cast to have a ball and bring Brooks’ zany and bizarre characters to life for our laughter and enjoyment. The names alone of the characters: Max Bialystock, Carmen Ghia, Roger De Bris, and the long, long multi names for Ulla got chuckles. What fun Mel Brooks had in creating this musical gem! And, what fun he brought us! I am ready to see the “producers” again. The people in the box next to me said this production at the Hollywood Bowl was racier and funnier than the London production. Mr.Brooks, I think Los Angeles is ready for a long run of “The Producers”. I am.
The run of Mel Brooks, “The Producers” is over Sunday, July 29th . But, there are other entertaining programs to choose from. There are classical nights with Gustavo Dudamel,Placido Domingo jazz nights with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Anita Baker, Herbie Hancock; an evening with Norah Jones, Liza Minnelli, Diana Krall, The Neville Brothers, Pixar in Concert, John Williams, the annual “Big Picture Concert” with David Newman leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and fireworks shows. For ticket and show times, call 323-850-2000. There are shuttles from various cities to the Bowl, parking at the Hollywood Highland Kodak with shuttle service, and the stacked Hollywood Bowl parking.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next class starts September 20th. For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com On Line Registration to www.beverlyhills.org/BHRegOnline Click on “Activities” and scroll to On Camera.
The class in for 8 weeks @ $118 from 6:45-9:15 PM ($5 materials fee payable to instructor first night).