Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of The Producers is a delightfully hilarious romp, at once a satire on Broadway musicals and a loving tribute to them. With a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, and directed by Jerry Vess, it is a spectacle of great acting, singing, lighting, costumes, and choreography, and an excellent show for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre to finish their 50th season.
Watching B. Thomas Rinaldi as Max Bialystock, one is reminded of Nathan Lane, who brought the role to life in the 2001 Broadway production and the 2005 movie version. Even so, Rinaldi adds his own unique touches to the part to make it his own, playing a glorious caricature of a Broadway producer: obsessed with money, sex-hungry, and willing to do anything to achieve his goals. Rinaldi dominates the stage, clearly enjoying his part as a shady character, and doing everything possible to make “Springtime for Hitler” the biggest flop in show business. Even while on the sidelines during the song “It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Op’ning Night” he has a presence, telling the actors about to go on “good luck.” Watching him is absolute joy. His tour-de-force rendition of “Betrayed” stopped the show (in a good way!)
Nathan Bowen is a pleasure as Leo Bloom. He brings the right combination of wide-eyed innocence and neurosis to the part, becoming hysterical when Max takes his security blanket. In “I Wanna Be a Producer” he shows off his dancing skills as a line of chorus girls emerges from the filing cabinets of his accounting office, looking very much like Fred Astaire with a top hat and cane. And he sounds like a true romantic in “That Face” singing about falling in love. He and Rinaldi have immediate chemistry, with Bowen displaying Leo’s cautiousness and loving nature playing perfectly against Max’s greed and cynicism. Only Max could convince Leo that their plan could work. At one point, they even dance together. In “Til Him” the love between these two becomes absolutely clear; their friendship is deep.
Erica Miller is an incredible combination of sexy and comedic as Ulla. She enters Max and Leo’s office for an audition and wows both them and the audience with “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” Miller captivates the stage in a red dress. Her faux Swedish accent gets many laughs, as does her timing; when asked by Leo and Max to “tidy up”, they enter the office the next day to find her painting the entire room white, including the safe. In “That Face” she dances perfectly with Leo, looking like Ginger Rogers.
Josh Mooney is an absolute hoot as Franz Liebkind. He plays the unrepentant Nazi with relish, wearing lederhosen, a helmet, and singing about “In Old Bavaria.” When meeting Max and Leo, he immediately does a salute, then argues that one of Hitler’s talents was that he “could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon, two coats.” There are outrageous pigeons, and Bowen throws himself enthusiastically into both “Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop” and “Have You Ever Heard the German Band,” singing and dancing with gusto.
Pete Thompson’s Director Roger DeBris and Kevin James Logan as his assistant Carmen Ghia are both hilarious. There is a funnily awkward silence when Max and Leo first meet Carmen, wearing an all-black body suit. The scene gets even funnier when Roger emerges in a fabulously glittery evening gown, earrings, and lipstick, and an outrageous headdress.
Their comedy comes not just from playing stereotypically gay men, although they do that brilliantly, but also from their ignorance; Roger mentions that he never realized “the Third Reich meant Germany.” But it’s in “Springtime for Hitler” that Thompson is at his most outrageous as The Fuhrer – clearly enjoying his time in the limelight. Another enjoyable and outrageous scene is when Roger’s production team spills out of his townhouse singing “Keep It Gay, which brought down the house.
Emily Frank has done a wonderful job as Choreographer. This production has some really complex dancing, and it all feels perfectly smooth. The highlight of the show and Frank’s work is “Springtime for Hitler” with several chorus lines, dancers balancing seemingly unwieldy ornaments on their helmets, and a march in the shape of a swastika. That the cast pulls it off so apparently effortlessly is a testament to their talent and Frank’s skill.
Music Director Anita O’Connor and Music Director and Conductor Ken Kimble do fine work. Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning score is upbeat and pleasant, with lots of comic touches. Even a song like “Betrayed,” with Max despairing alone in prison, gets plenty of laughs, as he realizes that,“Someone else’s life is flashing before my eyes.” There is tenderness and romance, but mostly comedy. There are so many memorable lines, including this one from “The King of Broadway.”: “You’ve heard of theater in the round? I came up with theater in the square. Nobody had a good seat!”
Jerry Vess directs the show brilliantly. He balances the show’s different elements, keeps the pace going steadily, and the comic timing is always on point. The cast works well, flowing smoothly and effortlessly with high energy. The set is cleverly constructed, so that parts unfold for Max’s office and Roger’s townhouse.
The cast and crew pull out all the stops, and delivers an incredible night of laughter. Don’t miss Annapolis Summer Garden’s outrageously entertaining production of The Producers!
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.