No group escapes unscathed in Mel Brooks’ spectacular musical comedy
Ah, that Mel Brooks!
Who else in this politically correct world would conceive a show – a musical yet! – with sieg-heiling pigeons, a booty-shaking Adolph Hitler, 16 tap dancing old ladies and their walkers, a flamboyantly gay director whose dress makes him look like the Chrysler Building and a choreographer’s codpiece that would make Mr. Ed proud?
More importantly, how many other writers working today could craft a rip-roaring adult musical comedy filled with what many would consider offensive stereotypes – and do it so inoffensively?
Such is the legacy of “The Producers,” now playing at Detroit’s Masonic Temple Theatre. Based on Brooks’ 1968 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, “The Producers” is a throwback to an earlier era of stage comedy, the likes of which we may never see again. It’s part burlesque, part vaudeville and part tribute to earlier Broadway musicals, yet it’s also reminiscent of television’s Golden Age of comedy.
Brooks, who honed his craft writing such gems as the 1950’s classic hit “Your Show of Shows,” paints his scenes with an incredibly broad brush – yet with humor that is never intended to denigrate or insult either his subjects or his audience.
Poke fun at, yes…but never with malicious intent!
And with a twinkle of the playwright’s eye, it also provides a satirical peek at one of the most mysterious jobs in the dazzling world of show business: the producer!
Broadway moneyman Max Bialystock is down on his luck. His latest show closed after one performance, after which his timid accountant, Leo Bloom, gives him the bad news: It lost money. However, Bloom’s off-handed comment about making more money from a miss than a hit gives Bialystock an idea: Why not produce Broadway’s biggest flop ever – and get rich when it bombs?
So the two find the most awful script ever written – “Springtime for Hitler” – and the worst director to stage it – the oh-so-flaming Roger De Bris – and history is made…but not quite the way Bialystock and Bloom envisioned it.
History was also made in 2001 when “The Producers” became the most awarded show ever on Broadway, winning a record 12 Tony Awards and 11 Drama Desk Awards, plus 8 Outer Critic Awards.
What’s most rewarding for Detroit audiences, however, is this: The witty script by Brooks and Thomas Meehan and spectacular direction and choreography by Susan Stroman have lost none of their brilliance in this remarkable touring production.
The reason for that is quite simple, actually: Brooks and his management team aren’t treating this tour like the Broadway company’s ugly stepchild. Instead, they’ve filled it with the best performers and musicians the producers could find!
Bob Amaral and Andy Taylor, as Bialystock and Bloom, are splendid in their roles. This is ultimately the story of the friendship that grows between these two opposites, and each plays his part with great gusto.
Also fine are Rich Affannato who plays De Bris’ common law (and very swishy) assistant, Carmen Ghia; and Peter Samuel who tackles the role of Nazi sympathizer and playwright, Franz Liebkind.
Stuart Marland seems to have the most fun in the over-the-top role of De Bris. His joyous performance in the number “Springtime for Hitler” is a showstopper.
The most appealing voice of the evening, however, belongs to Renee Klapmeyer. As the Swedish bombshell who wears a dress better than anyone else – sorry, Stuart – Klapmeyer’s Ulla brightens the show with every appearance.
On opening night, a somewhat older Jewish woman sitting next to me politely asked at intermission, “Were you offended by the portrayal of gays in the first act?”
“How could I be?” I responded, pointing out that not only were gays lampooned, but so were Jews, Nazis, blacks, Germans, old ladies, nuns, pigeons, lecherous producers and Swedish blondes.
“Good,” she replied with great relief. “It’s all meant in fun.”
I couldn’t have said it better!
“The Producers” Presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Masonic Temple Theatre, 500 Temple St., Detroit, through Jan. 11. Tickets: $27.50 – $75. 313-872-1000. www.nederlanderdetroit.com. Suggested for mature audiences; contains strong language and adult themes.
The Bottom Line: It’s Mel Brooks at his comedic best – which means some will love it, while others won’t.
A fresh take on the holiday season leaves audiences laughing
Tis the season for contemporary Christmas comedies, it seems, and if you like yours fresh and funny, you might want to visit Hamtramck’s Planet Ant sometime this holiday season.
“25,” created, written and performed on high octane by the Planet Ant Improv Colony, is what you’d get if you combined television’s hit drama “24” with every sappy Christmas movie ever made in which a guardian angel plays a key role – but with a wickedly delightful twist: THIS guardian angel, Olay, doesn’t like humans!
In fact, Olay’s been fired from heaven and turned into one of those despised humans because of something she did while allegedly under the influence of angel dust: She put into motion plans for six of her charges to die on Christmas Day.
Olay is mad as the devil, so to speak, but she’s given one day plus one hour to set things right. If she can successfully stop the murders -which is highly unlikely, she’s told – she’ll regain her place among the heavenly hosts. There’s just one problem, however: Olay doesn’t remember which of her charges are fated to die!
While that setup might not sound particularly humorous, what follows is a seemingly disparate series of comedic sketches that traverse the boundaries of time and place – all the while tickling the funny bone. Don’t fret if at first the stories and characters don’t seem to relate to the overall plot; there is a method to the Improv Colony’s insanity, and everything eventually comes together as a madcap whole – and an ending that had the audience on opening night roaring with laughter!
“25” is the Improv Colony’s 11th original comedy, and like all shows created through the improvisational process, some of the sketches and characters work better than others. However, Director Shawn Handlon and his wacky troupe of seven improvisers succeed far more than not, thanks to their considerable skills and talents.
Mounting an original comedy is never easy, of course, especially one that features more characters than actors. As such, each performer is called upon to play several different roles throughout the course of the show. If there’s a flaw in “25” it’s this: Not every performer has developed the skills needed to create characters that are visually and vocally distinct from one another.
Jaime Moyer, however, is especially notable for her clearly defined and expertly executed characterizations. Each role she plays has unique mannerisms, facial features and voices; her performance never wavers, and her slick performance stands out from all the rest.
Also fine are Dave Davies, Brett Guennel and Cara Trautman.
The video segments interspersed throughout the show are expertly done, and are a much important and enjoyable aspect of the production.
And although there were a few snafus during last Friday night’s performance, all technical aspects of “25” are fine – thanks to an overworked Tommy Leroy who functioned not only as technical director, but set designer, set construction and stage manager, as well.
“25” Presented Thursday through Sunday at Planet Ant, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, through Dec. 28. Tickets: $15. 313-365-4948 ext. 1. www.planetant.com. Recommended for mature audiences.
The Bottom Line: A delightfully wicked evening of theater for those tired of the same old Holiday chestnuts!