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The Producers 9877 E1340387467328

“The Producers” by Mel Brooks at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Photo by Eric Chazankin: From left, Jeff Cote, Mark Bradbury and Matlock Zumsteg doing the Hop-Clop Dance

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

6th Street Scores Big With Hitler (and Mel Brooks)

Comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks has long understood the unique transformative power of comedy. Of tyrants Hitler and Mussolini he said: “If you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance.” He’s absolutely right, of course. And during 6th Street Playhouse’s giddy presentation of “The Producers”, those trying to keep a straight face for even one minute will stand no chance, either.

Zany, boisterous and irreverent, “The Producers” was a smash hit on Broadway, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Actually, “smash hit” is quite an understatement. In April 2001 it opened to universal rave reviews and awe-inspiring box office. It went on to win a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, sweeping the season. Its initial run alone saw over 2500 performances. The idea for this juggernaut of a show was first hatched in the late 1990s, when mega-producer David Geffen convinced Brooks to adapt his 1968 cult classic film into a Broadway musical. Inspired, Brooks composed the show’s music and lyrics himself, and wrote the book with Thomas Meehan. It was a gamble, but it paid off; he received Tony Awards for his work, and shared the Tony for the book with Meehan.

A complex musical satire of such formidable reputation would overwhelm many theatre companies, but the board members of 6th Street knew exactly what they were taking on, and knew exactly who they would call upon for their talent. They deliver a show with spectacular results in every element. It’s bright and raucously funny, loaded with fast-paced comic routines, iconic characters and truly delightful song-and-dance numbers. Timing between the cues for music, funny business and gag lines is flawless, so critical for a show like this to be a success. It’s the sign of a cast and crew that really knows their stuff.

The now-familiar story: It’s 1959 in New York City. A has-been Broadway producer, bombastic Max Bialystock (Matlock Zumsteg), is just about at the end of his rope. He hasn’t had a hit in years, and his last show flopped like a dead fish. One day, a local accountant, ultra-nebbish Leo Bloom (Jeff Cote), shows up to audit Max’s books. It soon becomes apparent that Leo is a basket case, but nonetheless he comes up with a brilliant scheme while musing over Max’s accounts. In between panic attacks, Leo suggests that a producer, under the right circumstances, could make more money with a flop than with a hit by raising a large amount of capital, putting on a show that closes after one night, and then pocketing the money. Max loves the idea and asks Leo to be his partner. Max says they can raise a fortune from his devoted investors – a coterie of rich, horny old ladies (who have a chorus number later on). When their show closes after the one performance, Max and Leo will run off to Rio with the loot and live happily ever after. What could be simpler? At first Leo refuses, but soon he succumbs to Max’s persuasive charms, quits his job, and together they begin their search for “the worst play ever written”. They finally find it, floridly entitled “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden”. Madcap adventures ensue with Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (Mark Bradbury), flamboyant director Roger DeBris (Larry Williams) and his equally showy assistant Carmen Ghia (Adam Burkholder). Max and Leo make an especially momentous acquaintance with Swedish bombshell Ulla (April Krautner), who becomes their “secretary-slash-receptionist”. But imagine Max and Leo’s dismay when their terrible play becomes a big, fat hit. Someone’s going to jail!

Photo by Eric Chazankin: Entire Cast
The entire cast is brilliant. Jeff Cote and Matlock Zumsteg create an unforgettable duo, playing off of each other with perfect chemistry. Adam Burkholder, April Krautner and Larry Williams, who were so fabulous in “The 39 Steps “ at 6th Street’s Studio Theatre early this year, are teamed up once again and dazzle onstage. It’s Mark Bradbury who steals the show, however, with his lederhosen, Hop-Clop dancing and robotic prop pigeons (complete with prop pigeon poop – Heil myself!). The ensemble cast joins with the lead players in rousing chorus numbers that would be at home on any Broadway stage.

The amazing Craig Miller has put his stamp upon yet another masterpiece. His professionalism, and his love of comedy – inspired by Brooks, Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, to name but a few – shines in every minute detail of his stage direction and sound design. Paul Gilger’s sets are very elaborate and spellbinding as they move back and forth, on and off stage on what must be hundreds upon hundreds of casters. Musical director Janis Dunson Wilson, Choreographer Vicki Suemnicht and Costume Designer Erika Hauptman all deserve special praise for making this show lively and fun.

“The Producers” closes 6th Street’s current season with a resounding bang. The only drawback: with a running time in the neighborhood of three hours (including intermission), by the end of the show you will hurt all over from laughing so hard, for so long. But your heart will be light. As Mel Brooks so famously said: “If you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death.” So get out and enjoy life, flap your arms and legs, and see some crazy jumping around onstage in one really extraordinary musical show.

When: Now through July 15, 2012
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Sundays
2 p.m. Saturdays June 30, July 7 and July 14
Tickets: $15 to $35
Location: 6th Street Playhouse – GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA
Phone: 707-523-4185

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