Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Choreographed by Brigitte Ditmars
Music Director Eugene Dizon
At the Mercury Theater Chicago
Hyper-fun and in-your-face satire rules
Winner of 12 Tony Awards and running on Broadway for 2502 performances, The Producers, based on the 1968 film, is one of the finest musical comedies of all-time! Each time I see this side-splitting musical, I marvel at the genius of Mel Brooks. Anchored by Chicago’s top two comic players: Bill Larkin (Max Bialystock) and Matt Crowle (Leo Bloom), Walter Stearn’s production is a zany gem. It is one of the finest productions mounted at the intimate Mercury Theater.
The story concerns Max Bialystock, a struggling Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, a stage-struck accountant. These two men join forces in order to make megabucks by producing the worst musical ever seen on Broadway. When they receive a musical script from ex-Nazi stormtrooper Franz Liebkind, which tells the story of Hitler’s rise to power in song and dance, they are convinced that they have found a show that is guaranteed to offend just about everybody.
This show incorporates humor in every movement, every entrance, every costume, and every dance. It is nonstop, in-your-face satire. They try to offend everyone in a shamelessly glorious production. The musical has dancing storm troopers, dirty old ladies with euphemisms such as “Lick-Me Bite-Me” and “Hold-Me, Touch-Me”, a song with the refrain “Don’t be stupid / Be a smarty / Come and join the Nazi party!” And the marvelously scandalous closing number from the show-within-a-show “Springtime for Hitler” is a hoot!
The shows rests upon who plays Max and Leo, especially after Nathan Lane indelibly established Max as a pure comedic figure and Matthew Broderick gave Leo a likable squeamishness. Bill Larkin’s energy, physicality, and comedic timing combine with his fine voice make Max a treat. Without imitating Lane, Larkin has the character down with his own imprint. He is hilarious as the devilish producer. Matt Crowle has the nervousness, nerdiness, and exquisite comic chops and a nice voice together with rubbery body language to give Leo the necessary neurotic traits. Crowle easily wins out hearts. He can dance and knows how to sell a comedic bit. Larkin and Crowle deliver two excellent, exuberant performances. We quickly care and laugh at these two comic masters. Their chemistry and fine singing give depth to the hilarious characters.
I liked Harter Clingman as Franz Liebkind, the nazi playwright, and Jason Richards as the gay director Roger De Bris with Sawyer Smith as the hilariously swishy Carmen Ghia. Allison Sill as Ulla was more that just a beauty with legs to kill for, she sang wonderfully. The ensemble danced and sang as fine as any you’ll see.
Brigitte Ditmars’ inventive choreography in numbers like the “Keep It Gay,” “I Want To Be A Producer,” “The King of Old Broadway” and the wheelchaired old ladies in “Along Came Bialy” worked to exude more laughs. Every aspect of this fast flowing production produces laughs in a most entertaining spoof of Broadway.
In this production, I rediscovered Brooks’ clever humor. There is so much going on in this nonstop show that it simply overwhelms us. Can a show have too many laughs? Comedy returns to musical comedy with The Producers. Mel Brooks is outrageous as he attempts to offend as many people, places, nationalities, genders, and institutions as possible. He does it without regard to being “politically correct.” Thank God for Brooks’ chutzpah!
For a show that has non-stop laughs, get to the Mercury Theater to see the two funniest players in Chicago: Bill Larkin and Matt Crowle as they manically lead the laughs in The Producers. You’ll have a good time!
Date Reviewed: April 21, 2016
For more info checkout The Producers page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $3- – $65, Wednesdays at 8 pm, Thursdays at 3 & 8 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm,running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through June 26, 2016