Produced by Night Blue Performing Arts Company
Playing at Stage 773, Chicago
Charming Musical Marred by Basic Errors in Production
The good news is that for the first time in Chicago, a non-Equity company is producing Mel Brooks’ The Producers. This ambitious project, from the small Night Blue Performing Arts Company, has been Jeff recommended, and generated some positive buzz. The bad news is that for some mystifying reason, Night Blue thought it would be a good idea to perform The Producers in repertory with Victor/Victoria, the 1995 adaptation of the 1982 movie directed by Blake Edwards, which both starred Julie Andrews. Unfortunately for all involved, I only saw Victor/Victoria, and it was evident the company has taken on way more than they can handle.
The story concerns Parisian nightclub performers in 1934. Victoria Grant (Shari Mocheit), an Englishwoman, has just arrived, and is trying to get work as a singer. Toddy (Billy Dawson), a performer, has just been fired. After a chance meeting, he invites her to live with him, and since Toddy is gay, Victoria sees no harm in doing so. After lending her some of his ex-boyfriend’s clothes, Toddy decides a good way for Victoria to break into the club scene is as a female impersonator—which would require her to pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman. His plan works, and “Victor” attracts the attention of the Chicago mafia-affiliated producer King Marchan (Casey Hayes). He is confused by his sexual desire for “Victor,” and when he sends his girlfriend, Norma (Erin Long) home, she informs the mafia that King is disgracing them by consorting with a gay man.
At the preview I saw, there was an issue with Mocheit’s microphone that did not get resolved until intermission. Artistic director David Walters apologized very profusely and professionally, and the problem was fixed. However, I was in the first row, and when a performer is singing a solo or duet only seven feet away and is inaudible, the mic isn’t the problem. The orchestra was on the second floor and behind the set, and most of the actors still sang too softly to be heard clearly over it, even after Mocheit’s mic was turned on, and what I did hear lacked vocal control in other ways. The one exception was Long as the moll Norma, in a hyperactive, exaggerated performance, but the rest of the cast was so lacking in energy, Norma was ironically a relief. At what is supposed to be the climax of the play, several people get menaced with guns, but the confrontation is as lethargic as everything that has come previously, and there’s no sense of danger.
Night Blue must also operate on a shoestring budget, or have invested everything in The Producers. Victoria’s wig doesn’t make her look like a man, it just makes her look like a woman with short hair, and her “Le Jazz Hot!” costume belongs in Spamalot. Constantly shifting furniture on and offstage didn’t help the show’s pacing, either (the set is shared with The Producers). Even remembering that what I saw was a preview, I have a hard time picturing how the show would rise above the quality of community theatre. Strong material doesn’t count for anything when every aspect of a production is so shaky.
Playing at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.