In 2001, The Producers took home 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. Adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, the piece brilliantly captures the dark humor of Brooks’ original 1968 film. After a successful Broadway run of 2,502 performances, the musical went on to a run of 920 performances in London’s West End, and eventually a 2005 film starring members of the original cast, including Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprising their roles as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom. Because of the widespread success, it is no wonder theater companies today continue to produce Brooks’ hilarious musical. Last night, Sandy Spring Theater Group joined that long list.
Written and composed by Brooks and directed and choreographed by Kristofer Kauff, The Producers follows the story of dead end Broadway Producer Max Bialystock (Dino Coppa) as he enlists the help of Accountant Leo Bloom (Tyler Everett Adams), to make millions off a flop of a musical. They work together to find the worst director and they find Roger DeBris (fabulously played by Brian Lyons-Burke-especially during his tour-de-force performance in “Springtime for Hitler”) and an equally horrible script. The result is a brilliant comedy with clever wit, catchy music, and characters you cannot help but fall in love with, including Matt Kopp’s outrageous performance as DeBris’ sidekick Carmen.
Brooks outdoes himself through the relationship between Bialystock and Bloom. Despite their tendency to enter unfortunate situations they should have seen coming, I found I wanted to see them succeed. For example, as they dance across the stage sporting swastikas in their attempt to win the rights for “Springtime for Hitler,” I found myself amazed at the image Brooks created, but even more surprised that the scene only made me fall in love with the characters even more.
I have seen other productions of Brooks’ work in the past, but I am always impressed by his clever use of wit. Not only does he turn hot button topics such as “Nazism” into jokes that push the show over the top, but hidden behind the obvious humor, he includes quick one-liners that can almost go unnoticed if an audience member is not properly listening. Lines such as Bloom’s “Stop the world! I wanna get on!” and Ulla’s “Why Bloom go so far down stage right” left me laughing so hard I almost missed the line that followed.
Though simple, Bill Brown made interesting use of small space in his set design. I was pleasantly surprised to find the brick wall and door from the opening number fold out to create Max Bialystock’s office in the second scene, and then fold back in to create the account’s office in “I Wanna Be a Producer.” Brown created a multi-dimensional set out of few parts, and I found myself curious to see how he would continue adding on throughout the production.
A musical is a group effort, and Sandy Spring Theater Group’s ensemble was made up of many talented performers. Daniel Santiago as the Blind Violinist in “The King of Broadway” was hilarious. His energy was spot-on, and his dance involving numerous methods of playing a violin during the transition from the street scene into Max Bialystock’s office was a joy to watch. Kate Moon played four different roles, and whether she was dancing across the stage as an Usherette or flirting with Max Bialystock as ‘Lick Me Bite Me,’ I always found my attention drawn to her. Her stage presence was impressive, and no matter what role she was playing, her passion shone through.
Paige Taylor as Ulla managed to add an adorable feel to a seductive character that added to her performance. Her vocals during “When You Got it Flaunt it” were impressive, particularly when she showcased her wide range as she belted towards the end, but my favorite aspect of Taylor’s performance was how she drew a different side out of Leo Bloom.
Tyler Everett Adams created an anxious and innocent character,-Leo Bloom- which worked well for him, but I enjoyed watching a stronger side emerge during “That Face,” his duet with Ulla. As their romance blossomed and Bloom’s self-confidence grew, I found myself appreciating Adams’ choices even more. He portrayed a true development in character, which made for an exciting story arc I wanted to see continue through the end.
I was saddened to find difficulty in hearing Coppa’s vocals over the music, but I was fascinated by his physical acting abilities in the role of Max Bialystock, particularly when he was on stage with Adams. While Coppa chose big movements that connected to Bialystock’s extroverted character, Adams played Bloom small, and was constantly finding a way to fidget and showcase his anxiety. The contrast in movement helped push Adams’ character development over the top, as he gained confidence and his movements slowly started to look similar to those of Bialystock.
From the moment Bob Schwartz entered the stage as Franz Liebkind, I knew he was going to be fantastic. He showcased beautiful vocals during his ballad “In Old Bavaria,” but his physical acting abilities during “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” were phenomenal. I could not stop laughing as he skipped around the stage singing complete nonsense, but he delivered the song in complete seriousness. Even though Brooks pokes fun at the idea of Nazism, Franz is meant to deeply admire Hitler and remain oblivious to how others may see him, and Schwartz portrayed that quality with ease.
After witnessing Sandy Spring Theater Group’s hysterical production of The Producers, I am not at all surprised that Brooks’ play won so many Tony Awards. The script will leave you laughing from start to finish, and the talented cast help push the production over the top. Based on the roar of applause that followed, I believe opening night’s audience would agree.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
The Producers plays through June 29, 2014 – Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets and information, go online.