‘The Producers’ at Zemfira Stage by Kim Moeller

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“It was crass and crude and I enjoyed every minute of it!”

That’s a line from the Mel Brooks musical comedy, The Producers. It’s also my summary of Zemfira Stage’s production now playing in Falls Church, VA. Based on the 1968 movie of the same name, the show follows the story of hapless Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his timid accountant Leo Bloom as they devise and implement a scheme to bilk investors out of millions by producing the world’s worst Broadway show and sure-fire flop, Springtime for Hitler. As one would expect of Mr. Brooks who said of himself, “I have bad taste with a deep fount of intellectuality,” the show is vulgar, smart, and an evening of manic fun.

Zemfira’s production is successful primarily for two reasons: the actors in the leading roles and the vocal skills of the entire ensemble. In his opening number, Jim Mitchell (Producer Max Bialystock) tells us he was once “King of Broadway,” but now he wears a rented tux that’s two weeks overdue. He will do anything to make money, including “shtupping every little old lady in New York.” The actor effectively uses his expressive face and his deep, resonate voice to create the offbeat character who is more sympathetic in this production than in others.

Bialystock’s nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Joe Philipoom) offers a way out of Max’s financial problems when he notes in passing that a producer could make more money on a flop than on a hit. By raising $2 million and only spending a small amount on a flop that quickly closes, the producer can keep the rest with neither the IRS or investors asking questions because no one ever expects to make money on a flop.

Philipoom’s Charlie Brown speaking voice, comic timing, appealing singing voice, and skill with slapstick physical comedy makes him well cast in the role of the neurotic sidekick who dreams of producing a hit Broadway show and driving the chorus girls insane. Leo shares his dream of becoming a producer and before you know it, the two are partners, Bialystock and Bloom.

As they review scripts in search of the perfect flop, Max finds “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden” written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Cameron Lee Conlan). They head to Liebkind’s house to buy the rights of the horrid script. Mr. Conlan, who plays the demented, easily angered character, may be my favorite performer in the show. With a glint in his eye, he is able to keep the Nazi more, dare I say, entertaining than offensive.

Max and Leo make a final stop at the home of the flamboyant director Roger DeBris (Brian Johnson) and Carmen Ghia (Jonathan Faircloth). While DeBris is able to wear his dress and high heals with cool composure and confidence, it is Faircloth who steals a number of scenes with his sassy portrayal of DeBris’ flashy “common law-assistant”.

Upon returning to the office, Bialystock and Bloom meet Swedish bombshell Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen Hallen Svaden Svanson (Colleen Connor) who is eager to audition for a Broadway role. While Connor isn’t given the right hairstyle and costumes to be stereotypically sexy, she is fun to listen to and watch as she sings “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”. Consequently, she is hired to be the partners’  “secretary slash receptionist.” As Act II opens, she and Leo are beginning to fall in love. They sing “That Face,” one of the least interesting songs in the show although Ms. Connor’s and Mr. Philipoom’s voices blend well and the song create a bit of a spark between the two characters.

The show’s highlight is the big “Springtime for Hitler” production number. Musically, the show is at its best when the entire ensemble sings, and this number is no exception. The ensemble of twenty fill the theater with absurd lyrics but beautiful harmonies. Kudos to Choral Director Rachel Harrington. Be very careful though. The song is so catchy that you may find yourself singing “Springtime for Hitler and Germany. Deutschland is happy and gay…” for days to come.

This is a good, solid production with many noteworthy performances. Although the stage is quite small for such a large cast, Director and Producer Zina Bleck and Choreographer Stacy Crickmer make the best use of the space available. The performance flows quite well given there are an enormous number of costume and scene changes. The latter is made easier by minimalist set design. I would hope that some of the missed notes by the 13-piece orchestra and the inconsistent sound levels will improve in future performances.

If you’ve never seen The Producers, you’ll wonder how a show with such an absurd, over-the-top premise went on to break records in winning 12 Tony Awards including Best Musical. If you’ve seen the show, you know. In either case, Zemfira Stage’s production of this outrageous, yet warm show will delight and keep you laughing.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission.

Zemfira Stage’s production of The Producers plays through September 16, 2012 at James Lee Community Center – 2855-A Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling (703) 615-6626, or by purchasing them at the box office prior to the show with cash or check only.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I loved the original movie The Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, so I went to the Zemfira Stage production of The Producers mostly to support a friend with several minor roles in the production, and not because I expected a great show. So I felt pleasantly surprised to find the show great after all.

    Jim Mitchell did an outstanding job as the overstated Max Bialystock. I know it’s a tiny thing, but when he broke into his fake Irish brogue toward the end to try to fool the (stereotypical Irish big-city) cop, I laughed for several minutes. Indeed I laughed at his performances and those of his co-stars so much that at time I had to cover my mouth to avoid disturbing my fellow theatergoers.

    Joe Philipoom played a good Leo Bloom, transforming from nebbish to hero to nebbish to hero again with aplomb, and, as Bialystock noticed toward the end, had a fantastic singing voice.

    Colleen Connor played a terrific Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden-Swamson. She was beautiful and did a tremendous job of actual tap-dancing, taking me back to the black and white movies of my parents’ youth. I don’t know if her parents forced her to tap as a child, but those tap lessons really paid off.

    Cameron Lee Conlan played a delightfully over-the-top Nazi (Franz Liebkind); as the friend who went with me commented, Cameron was fearless. Brian Johnson also took his character, the gay director Roger DeBris, entertainingly over the top.

    My friend, Brady Russell, made his acting debut in The Producers, playing the Nazi’s disillusioned sidekick (Gunter), the play-with-in-a-play’s Winston Churchill, the police sergeant, and a member of the Ensemble. Since he’s so big and tall that they mostly put in way in the back, yet he managed to act his heart out so that you could see him from the front.

    I would be remiss in not mentioning the plethora of attractive women in the Ensemble. I think it had some men too, but if you’re interested you’ll have to go see the play and judge for yourself whether any of them was attractive. :-D

    I haven’t laughed so much since someone suggested I would make a great father. If you live within driving distance of northern Virginia, I highly recommend that you go see the Zemfira Stage production of The Producers. To misquote the play, don’t be stupid; be a smarty—go and see Zemfira’s party! :-D

  2. Oops. That’s supposed to be “I would be remiss in NOT mentioning….” I should know better than to write reviews at midnight. :-D

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