By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
Times Staff Writer
You may have seen The Producers, Mel Brooks' 2001 musical comedy, on Broadway or the big screen, or during one of the professional touring stops in the bay area.
But the Tony Award winner is worth a second look at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.
In this 399-seat theater, you catch every facial twitch, eyebrow raise, hand gesture or hip movement, to say nothing of the big, broad theatrics this stellar cast does almost nonstop.
Michael L. Walters is brilliant as the deliciously conniving Max Bialystock, a down-and-out Broadway producer who schemes to put on a flop so he can run off with his investors' money.
Walters is comfortable in the role, effortlessly improvising during a solo scene in the second act and holding stage bits right to the edge with double and triple takes, lip quivers and outrageous bawdiness that don't seem the least bit contrived.
Walters has the perfect foil in Michael Ursua as the earnest, reluctant con man, accountant Leo Bloom. Ursua's silky voice ('Til Him, That Face) only emphasizes how awkward Leo is when it comes to human relationships. Leo doesn't want to be a crook, but, man, he likes those show girls enough to bend the rules.
Supporting actors are terrific as well: tall, long-legged Erin Romero as the oversexed Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who brings out a whole new facet in Leo; Matthew McGee as the flamboyantly gay director Roger DeBris, whose campy take on Adolf Hitler accidentally makes Springtime for Hitler a hit; Candler Budd as the wide-eyed Nazi Franz Liebkind, who adores pigeons, Adolf Elizabeth Hitler and writing bad plays; and Todd Mummert as the wildly fey Carmen Ghia, whose ingratiating "s" sound lasssts forever.
The Producers is classic Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein), an over-the-top comedy-farce that's a true equal opportunity offender, targeting fat people, gay people, elderly people (the aluminum walker bit is a hoot), Jewish people (especially Jewish people), and even the audience.
Just as you think there's going to be a serious moment — maybe in a ballad or love scene — here comes a bit as hilariously crass, crude and/or coarse as Brooks can get it.
With scores of glittery costumes, set changes that last only long enough to wipe away the laughter, tears and even a pleasant recorded accompaniment, director Todd M. Eskins' show is fun from opening speech to closing bow.
Barbara L. Fredricksen is a columnist for the Times. She can be reached at [email protected]