Saturday, January 20, 2018
Stage

Mel Brooks' irreverent comedy 'The Producers' will make you laugh

Mel Brooks's musical The Producers is impudent, insulting and irreverent. But the neat thing about it, it's triple "i" to just about everyone — sex-starved little old ladies on aluminum walkers, gays, actors, directors, Jews (especially Jews), sexy dames, literary giants, hokey Broadway shows, politics, judges, foreigners and Adolf Hitler (especially Adolf).

With all that going for it, no wonder it won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards when it debuted in 2001.

And, thanks to director Lynda Dilts-Benson's outstanding cast and crew, the version playing weekends through May 19 at Stage West Community Playhouse does the show proud, never mind a few easily corrected opening night blips. The jokes come so fast and furious that it's difficult to recover from one before the next smacks you in the kisser. All you can do is enjoy what you catch and wait for the next one.

Subtlety is not Brooks' style, and Dilts-Benson lets her cast run with the writer's over-the-top, delightfully tasteless, bombastic, bawdy, physically outrageous and always hilarious script.

Dalton Benson and Jamie Smeriglio are perfectly matched as stage producer Max Bialystock (Benson), who just wants money, and erstwhile accountant Leo Bloom (Smeriglio), who just wants to be a producer. Benson makes the most of his considerable girth, while the tall, slender, innocent-faced Smeriglio is the perfect foil. Their comic timing is right on, as they plot to raise loads of cash (thanks to Bialystock's sexual skills with little old ladies), put on the worst play ever, close on opening night, then take the money and run off to Rio.

Special kudos to Smeriglio, who stepped into the role a little more than two weeks ago, when the originally cast player suddenly dropped out. Smeriglio and Benson look as though they've been together for ages, playing off each other's strengths and never missing a beat. Both are blessed with terrific voices, wonderfully showcased alone (Max's The King of Old Broadway, Betrayed), together (We Can Do It, Where Did We Go Right?) and with superbly talented supporting players and ensemble.

Ryan Rogers is in his element as the Nazi playwright and pigeon-loving Franz Leibkind, writer of the worst show ever written, Springtime for Hitler. Rogers does Franz with an earnestness that is knee-slapping ludicrous, crooning a heartfelt In Old Bavaria to his pigeons and singing and dancing his De Guten Tag Hop-Clop as seriously as a Bolshoi Ballet dance master.

Maranda Griffin is adorable as the over-sexed Ulla Inga Hensen Benson Yonsen Tallen Hallen Svaden (that's just her first name), a wide-eyed temptress without a single inhibition who hires on as Bloom and Bialy­stock's "secretary-slash-receptionist" who can barely answer the phone but looks great on the third rung of a step ladder.

Poking fun at gays and gayness is the comic linchpin of The Producers, and Jeff Germann's lissome frame and floating hand gestures create a perfect Carmen Ghia, the fluttery butler/lover to the raging queen, Roger DeBris, "the worst director ever," played by Mitch Gonzalez — though Gonzalez really should be even more flamboyantly offensive in Springtime.

The sizable ensemble provides plenty of great moments — Patty Villegas as the horny old lady that Bialystock dubbed "Hold Me, Touch Me"; Misty Hornsby as the awkward, homely showgirl; Jacob Rice singing a clear-as-a-bell Springtime; and a bevy of bearded "beauties" as DeBris' houseguest/pals — Bill Dimmitt, Kathy Capelle, Louis Bermudez, Ryan Farnsworth, Keith Mecia and Rice.

Musical director Steven Schildbach's nine-piece orchestra was batting .800 on opening night, mostly smooth but with some painfully rough edges at key times. Misty Hornsby's lighting mostly worked, though it left some scenes and upper torsos a tad too shadowy.

Sets on loan from the Show Palace Dinner Theatre and Largo's Eight O'Clock Theatre are professional and quickly changed, saving precious moments in a show that runs for almost three hours. Gabby Napolitano and Beverly O'Looney's costumes set the mood.

Choreographer Jeanine Martin's numbers are terrific (love Along Came Bialy), though the Springtime routine was almost too good — how 'bout some goofiness to let the audience know that Springtime is one great big odious show.

That said, The Producers really does produce.

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