Fuerher? We don’t even know ’er!
Mel Brooks’ satirical musical comedy gooses old-fashioned laughs with high-octane performances under dome
RAINBOW Stage goes all-in with its first presentation of The Producers, unleashing a comic blitzkrieg that scorches everything in its path, including good taste, political correctness and its longtime audience’s expectations. Director Ray Hogg, also Rainbow’s artistic director, contemplated eliminating the F-bomb from the Mel Brooks musical comedy, but left it in, along with other curse words. Swastikas, also said to be on the chopping block, were prominently displayed after all. Hogg immediately signalled his full commitment to this silly romp by introducing one of his own — a short pre-curtain number featuring a chorus of sexy singing showgirls helpfully reminding everyone to turn off their cellphones while pointing out which part of their bodies spectators should focus on. Subtlety is in short supply in The Producers, seen at Thursday’s preview performance. Brooks misses no opportunity to humorously savage everyone, from egotistical theatre directors to Teutonic tyrants, with cheap gags, broad stereotyping and over-the-top satirical jabs. The comedic bombardment is relentless, but with a running time of three hours (with intermission), the shell shock hits, along with a desire to wave the white flag, long before the final curtain. Some of the humour feels laboured and is certainly dated — to around 1968 when the original cult movie was released — but much of it still maintains its full impact. Not all of it, especially its characterization of women and gays, will be widely appreciated in 2014, but Brooks wasn’t about to spare anyone from his lacerating, albeit oldschool, wit. Many of the loudest laughs are generated by the preposterous costumes. Theatre takes its share of pointed pokes, as the story of The Producers revolves around the notion that creative accounting can lead to success on Broadway, especially if you deliberately set out to manufacture a flop. When crooked impresario Max Bialystock hires nerdy, hypersensitive accountant Leo Bloom, the scheme they hatch involves producing a show so tasteless and outrageous that it becomes a fluke hit. Springtime for Hitler, Max declares, is a fascist propaganda musical about “the Hitler with a song in his heart.” The show’s giddy high point is Springtime for Hitler, a lavish neo-Nazi production number that boasts unbelievable visuals. There’s a grinning faux Adolf crowing “Heil myself’ as he descends a staircase, followed by Ziegfeldesque showgirls crowned with oversized pretzels and bratwurst. The goose-stepping morphs into a tap routine while Hitler urges, “Be a smartie, join the Nazi party.” It climaxes with the appearance of two helmeted dancers, outfits adorned with German Panzer tanks, while a swastika twirls and fireworks are set off. A quality 18-member Rainbow cast makes sure spectators buy into the stage party with many top-drawer performances. As Max and Leo, Jeremy Webb and Simon Miron exude a disarming desperation. Webb’s Max is in a state of perpetual scramble, a likable rogue manically cooking up a new scam every minute. By contrast, Miron’s blanket-carrying Leo is a shy neurotic, longing to break out of his dull life and do something special for once. As losers, both come across as winners. The scene-stealing by the supporting cast of wackos is so stellar, it ought to be a crime. Élodie Gillet has got it and isn’t afraid to flaunt it as the sizzling Swedish siren Ulla, who is a lot smarter than everyone thinks. Corey Wojcik projects just the right amount of crazy as the Nazi loon playwright Franz Liebkind; his fine physical-comedy chops are at their best during his performance of Der Guten Tag Hop Clop. Edward Ledson, as flamboyant, cross-dressing director Roger DeBris, is at the centre of a wicked Keep It Gay. Carson Nattrass, as Roger’s light-loafered aide Carmen Ghia, might be the most shameless thief, upstaging everyone with his swishy body language, extended pronunciation of yes or deadpan delivery (“Can I take your coat, hat and swastikas?” he asks Max and Leo). The gleefully energetic ensemble also stepped up repeatedly — most notably in the parade of grey-haired little old ladies, stamping their metal walkers all over the stage. The orchestra, under the direction of Joseph Tritt, was first-rate, although its sound could be turned down a bit, so more of Brooks’ provocative lyrics would be audible. Rainbow Stage took on The Producers to get its patrons laughing — based on Thursday night’s exuberant response, it seems to have been a success.
Subtlety is in short supply in the zany, action-packed production of The Producers at Rainbow Stage.