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Theatre Charlotte describes Mel Brooks' The Producers as "laugh-out-loud, outrageous, and in-your-face," all descriptions that rang true May 29 on the fourth night of the theatre company's final production of the season.
The Producers (directed by Caroline Bower) follows the schemes of money-grubbing Max Bialystock (David Catenazzo), a big shot Broadway producer who has recently produced flop after flop, and spineless dead-end accountant Leo Bloom (Landon Sutton), a wannabe big shot Broadway producer stuck in the doldrums of accounting. The two unlikely partners team up when Leo realizes that a producer could theoretically make more money with a flop than with a hit. From there, the two plot a way to make a couple million by scamming investors and creating "the biggest flop on Broadway."
Catenazzo and Sutton were fine leads. Each is a strong singer and actor, able to contrast significantly in character with his counterpart, while also blending cleanly in harmonies. Max and Leo start out as quarreling business partners but end up as (you guessed it!) best friends.
Before the two profess their friendship for one another, they first have some work to do. In order to make the worst play on Broadway, they have to find the worst material and the worst director with whom to work. Max discovers the perfectly awful show they're looking for: Springtime for Hitler, a musical homage to Adolf Hitler written by a Nazi-loving Bavarian pigeon fancier named Franz (Chip Bradley). The perfectly awful director comes next: Roger De Bris (Paul Reeves Leopard), a fabulous and gaudy director with highly questionable artistic skill. Bradley and Leopard sang expressively in character and drew loads of laughter with their respective musical numbers.
In fact, every musical number was well executed. Each was energetic, well sung (musical direction by Ryan Deal), and well danced (choreography by Lauren "Loz" Gibbs), not just by the leads but also by the entire cast. Particular standouts were "Keep It Gay," with Leopard's embellishments and extravagance, and "When You've Got It, Flaunt It," sung by Max's and Leo's supermodel Swedish secretary Ulla, played by the powerful Hailey Thomas, a high school student from Northwest School of the Arts.
After establishing that Springtime for Hitler would be their ticket, Max and Leo hold auditions for the worst actors. Once again in this scene, the company was able to showcase strong singers as well as expressive actors, a group full of personality, to say the least.
The final piece of the puzzle is to raise the two million dollars for the production. Luckily, Max has investors, namely a large group of rich old ladies looking for a good time. With a little sweet talk (and a little dirty talk), Max gets the dough and is able to move forward. These exchanges culminate in "Along Came Bialy," in which Max sings with his old ladies (members of the company) who tap rhythmically with rolling walkers and move across the stage in rows. The sheer number of old ladies and the space they occupied on stage was hilarious, not to mention the shrill voices that accompanied these bespectacled, gray-haired thrill seekers.
Suddenly, it's opening night. With a little switch up in actors due to the star literally breaking his leg, the show is all set to go wrong. Springtime for Hitler brings the audience into the peaceful and quaint Third Reich, complete with gorgeous women sporting sausages, beer, and pretzels, and a dazzling Hitler (who ends up being played by the flamboyant director himself, Roger De Bris). Leopard, playing character within a character, maintained grandiose presence as both De Bris and De Bris-as-Hitler.
The show goes as horribly as planned, but to Max's and Leo's dismay, it ends up a smash hit. Max and Leo scramble to cover their tracks, but are unable to hide several loose ends (like their ledger book labeled "Don't Show the IRS"). Both end up being caught by the cops, though, with a little creativity and luck, they eventually manage to get out and back on top as Broadway's No. 1 producing team.
The Producers is just ridiculous, from small details like when Roger De Bris first emerges from his room dressed in a sparkling evening gown as Grand Duchess Anastasia ("...but I think I look more like the Chrysler building") to the whole outrageous concept of Springtime for Hitler. It would be easy to pick at The Producers for insensitivities (from the overly flamboyant ensemble in "Keep It Gay" to the fact that all the cops have Irish accents); Brooks manages to parody just about every group of people there is. However, in making fun of everything – and in such an obvious, clown-like way – Brooks also equalizes, putting everyone on the same farcical playing field.
Theatre Charlotte's The Producers delivered a successful, lively, personality-filled performance with an impressive cast of singers and actors. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it kept the audience laughing.
The Producers continues through Sunday, June 9. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.