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Everything bad is good again - 'The Producers'

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Robin Jones (left) as Max Bialystock and Paul Allen as Leo Bloom in a scene from the Grand's production of "The Producers." Robin Jones (left) as Max Bialystock and Paul Allen as Leo Bloom in a scene from the Grand's production of "The Producers." (Photo courtesy of The Grand)

Mel Brooks musical offers lots of laughter at the Grand

ELLSWORTH Some talented folks in Ellsworth are putting on a show about putting on a show.

'The Producers' the Mel Brooks-penned musical based on his 1968 film of the same name is hitting the stage at the historic Grand Theatre in Ellsworth. Directed by Michael Weinstein with music direction by Dana Ross and choreography by Sachi Cote, the show runs through Oct. 30.

The show, which broke records during its initial run by winning a whopping 12 Tony Awards, tells the story of a pair of down-on-their-luck producers who decide that their true path to success is through failure, hatching a plot to use an intentionally-terrible show to line their own pockets.

Max Bialystock (Robin Jones) was once the golden boy of Broadway, a hit-maker of the highest caliber. However, a string of flops has left him a laughingstock; he's left to sacrifice his dignity in the seduction of elderly women of means in an effort to secure their patronage.

Everything changes when Leo Bloom (Paul Allen), a jittery and star-struck accountant, shows up to go over Max's books. After professing his own lifelong desire to be a Broadway producer, Leo discovers that theatrical finances are such that, if things were properly handled, one could conceivably make a great deal of money by producing a fop disastrous enough to open and close in a single night.

Money-hungry Max latches onto this idea and manages to enlist Leo's assistance. The first step is to find the worst script they possibly can. They hit the jackpot when they discover 'Springtime for Hitler,' an offensive and off-putting play written by Nazi apologist Franz Liebkind (Steve Gormley). They follow that up by enlisting the worst director they can find, a goofy hack by the name of Roger DeBris (Roland Dube) and his live-in production team.

Along the way, a lovely Swedish acting neophyte named Ulla (Ashley Terwilleger) comes into the picture, working with Bialystock & Bloom both on- and offstage. Max utilizes his seductive powers to the max, soliciting investments to the tune of $2 million. All they need to do is wring a flop out of 'Springtime for Hitler' and they'll both be rich. How difficult can it be to bring a completely unsuccessful show to the Great White Way?

However, it turns out that being good at being bad isn't all that easy.

'The Producers' is undeniably infused with that unique Mel Brooks-ian absurdity that marks all of the comedian's work. The show is jam-packed with the sorts of caricatures and clever wordplay that are Brooks hallmarks, with plenty of inside baseball-type show business humor thrown in for good measure. Couple the madcap witticism of the script with a selection of hilarious songs and it's no wonder that the show has proven to be such a hit over the years.

In many ways, the success of this (or any) production of 'The Producers' rests largely on the shoulders of two performers. Max and Leo serve as the foundation of the show; everything is constructed atop the work of that lead duo. In that respect, this production is well-served both Jones and Allen do some great work. Jones is all smug arrogance and likable sleaze; his Max is a guy you'd want to be friends with even though you know better. Allen provides a nice counterbalance with his take on Leo; he's neurotic and fearful and generally fraught. His lack of confidence meshes beautifully with the wildly excessive confidence portrayed by Jones. The two together are a delightful comic team; their dynamic is sweet, funny and magnetic.

Terwilliger captures the essence of the wide-eyed ingnue perfectly as Ulla; there's innocence and navete there, but presented with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. Gormley is fun to watch as the totally-not-a-Nazi-wink-wink Liebkind. Dube is flamboyant as all get out as DeBris, while Jeffrey Servitas steals some scenes as the director's 'common-law assistant' Carmen Ghia. The rest of the ensemble performs admirably as well, switching gears from old ladies to accountants to aspiring singing/dancing Nazis with aplomb.

Musical director Ross has the pit band on point, resulting in some rousing and bawdily funny songs. Obviously, the 'Springtime for Hitler' stuff is a highlight the title song is just delightful but songs like 'We Can Do It' are 'Keep It Gay' are great fun, while others like 'That Face' and 'Til Him' prove surprisingly tender.

Weinstein and his production team have tackled another big one here; as per usual, they pass the test with flying colors. The production sports a massive set that is constantly in motion, featuring moving walls and video screens and all manner of business. Wilder Young's lights and Chris Daugherty's costumes contribute mightily as well.

The Grand has never shied away from challenges; 'The Producers' is a big one, and their ambition is rewarded once again. One thing that this crowd has proven time and again with regards to its show selection is that they know how to give audiences a good time. That trend continues with this one; it's the sort of big, broad crowd-pleaser that this crew knows how to do up right. It's a full-on madcap romp that benefits from strong lead performances, a solid ensemble, quality musicianship and good production values.

Suffice it to say this show about attempted failure should prove quite a success.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:33


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