Fuer­her? We don’t even know ’er!

Mel Brooks’ satir­i­cal mu­si­cal com­edy gooses old-fash­ioned laughs with high-oc­tane per­for­mances un­der dome

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - kevin.prokosh@freep­ress.mb.ca KEVIN PROKOSH

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.

SARAH TAY­LOR / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Subtlety is in short sup­ply in the zany, ac­tion-packed pro­duc­tion of The Pro­duc­ers at Rain­bow Stage.

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