The North Carolina Theatre has chosen the comic musical The Producers to open their 2011 season. The show, based on the notion that a Broadway flop can still make money, follows the antics of two maniacal men who set out to do just that.
At the top of Act I we meet Max Bialystock, once the King of Broadway but now the producer of such flops as "Funny Boy: Hamlet, the Musical." These shows are representative of the Broadway flop: the show that opens and closes on the same night. Max (Michael McCormick, 1776, Elf), smarting from the reviews out even as the show closes, vows that the Great White Way has not seen the last of him, and that he will fight his way back to the top in "The King of Broadway."
The year is 1959. Enter a Public Accountant, Leo Bloom (Stacey Todd Holt, Crazy for You, 42nd Street), who has been sent to examine Max's books from the CPA firm Whitehall and Marks. During the discussion, Leo innocently remarks that a savvy producer could make more money on a flop than he could on a hit. This hits Max like a ton of bricks; he is galvanized. "That's Brilliant!" he cries in "We Can Do It!" Leo, very much a goody-two-shoes, is brought to tears and exits the room screaming, "I Can't; I Can't!"
But Leo comes around. Soon the two are looking for bum scripts to find the guaranteed flop. Max finds the perfect one: "Springtime for Hitler," a scurrilous little plot by Franz Liebkind (Steven Ted Beckler, The Most Happy Fella, Beauty and the Beast), who is serious about finding a way to revere the memory of der Fuhrer. Having finally signed Franz to an exclusive contract ("Der Guten Tag Hop Clop"), Leo and Max run to the home of the worst director in New York, Roger DeBris (Stuart Marland, Jekyll and Hyde, Ragtime). They finally sign him on as director ("Keep It Gay") and now all Max has to do is finance the project, to the tune of a cool coupla million. He turns to his chorus of little old ladies ("Along Came Bialy") and by the act I closer has raised all the money they need to retire rich after this show flops, bigtime.
Act II gives us the actual show "Springtime for Hitler," but there is a twist; Franz, selected to play Hitler himself, actually breaks his leg opening night and Roger has to go on in his place. Roger is such a dandy that he is completely over the top and his scenes dissolve into farce. This turn of events makes the show a hit; one critic labels it an ""Excellent Satire" while others gush along the same lines. Leo and Max are horrified; they huddle in Max's office crying, "Where Did We Go Right?" The police arrive and Max, still holding the cooked books, gets taken off to prison. Leo, left alone in the office with the show's leading lady, Swedish dish Ulla (Lara Seibert, Young Frankenstein, The Drowsy Chaperone), must decide whether to go to Max's defense or flee to Rio with all that money. Ulla helps him decide. Max has been stewing for ten days in a holding cell awaiting trial when he receives a post card from the pair "wishing he were here." McCormick gives the best song of the night in his passionate "Betrayed," a solo that stops the whole show.
Max and Leo get five years for their little debacle but the sentence is commuted because they have been producing musicals inside the big house. This gives the two their next idea for a musical, "Prisoners of Love," which becomes another smash. The two are back on top, and all is well. The greatest show biz scheme there ever was, despite a rocky road, has given the two a back door to success. The finale of the show, "Goodbye," is a love song to the audience, saying, "farewell and thank you so much, now leave!"
The Producersis an equal opportunity offender, lampooning all that is theater and glitz and Broadway. It is madcap and crazy, over the top and down in the gutter. Nothing is left unscathed as these two hoodlums rampage through their scheme, including a swipe at justice and the courts. McCormick gives a hilarious rendition of Max Bialystock, and carries the show oftentimes on his back alone. But this production is everything it should be, a lampoon of the glitzy life, and the glitz is evident everywhere, in spades. It is a lark of the first order, and it brought the audience to its feet for a rousing standing ovation. If you wish to see a funny, funny good-time show, The Producers is the one you want.
The show continues through February 20. For details, see the sidebar.