In 2001 on Broadway Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office gross in theatre history twice and swept the 2001 Tony Awards garnering twelve, breaking the record held for thirty-seven years by Hello Dolly which had won ten. The show, which originally starred Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, ran for 2,502 performances in New York and spawned several International Productions as well as a US National Tour. For the past seven years thousands of American theatergoers have fallen into hysterics at the theatre and then fought to shoo “Springtime for Hitler” out of their heads while in places where songs about hotsy-totsy Nazis may be frowned upon.
The Producers is a postmodern throwback to backstage musicals laden with show business humor, references to other Broadway shows, and deeply embedded within the New York cultural consciousness. That said; it is also simply hysterical, especially in the hands of a cast of talented performers.
At the Arts Club in Vancouver the actors use every ounce of Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s show to create a comic delight.
Josh Epstein is earnest as Leo Bloom, an awkward accountant who relies on a remnant of his blue baby blanket to settle down his frequent bouts of terrified anxiety hysteria. He is filled with heart and rooted in great physical comedy. Jay Brazeau plays slimy, sleazy Max Bialystock with oversized- yet unmistakably endearing- slime, sleaze and flair. Terra C. MacLeod is perfectly lovely as Ulla, Bialystock and Bloom’s Secretary slash Receptionist, and Mark Burgess and Jackson Davies shine particularly bright as the hilarious Roger DeBris and Franz, the worst director and playwright in New York respectively. The ensemble of the show stand out strikingly and harkens back to the musicals of yesteryear with stages filled with triple threat chorus girls and boys in magnificent display of talent and costume. In The Producers their talent is extraordinary and it is thrilling to watch the magic that is created when they all dance in perfect tandem with such skill and the semblance of ease- at one point with walkers! Valerie Easton’s choreography is full of life and fun and perfectly suited to the show and the dancers.
The show receives a particularly hysterical boost of energy and radiance upon the entrance of Ron Pederson’s Carmen Ghia, whose physicality, voice and facial expressions may cause some audience members to fall out of their chairs with laughter. Pederson gives a flawless performance, and although he is only onstage for a few scenes you will watch him with irresistible fascination throughout and wish that he never left the stage.
The Stanley Alliance Theatre was once a movie theatre and therefore the acoustics are not perfectly suited for such a large show and dominating orchestra- therefore the sound can be a bit muddy in places, and the audience is challenged to listen closely if they want to catch each punch line and witty lyric. Even so, The Producers packs a comic punch big enough to transcend any technical glitch.
So, if you happen to be visiting Vancouver before July 13th and you are presented with the opportunity of seeing The Arts Club’s production of The Producers I have one bit of advice to impart to you: