Theater Review: The Shimmer Of Broadway In 'The Producers' At Theatre By The Sea

Aug 24, 2017

Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck is closing its season with one of Broadway’s biggest hits, “The Producers.”  Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says the musical still holds all its charms.

There’s no doubt at all that “The Producers,” put together by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan as an adaptation of Brooks' 1960s movie of the same name, is a rollicking, high-spirited and wonderfully funny piece of the best of American musicals.

Sure, it’s a little too long, a bit over the top at the times. It can sometimes have you saying “Okay, okay let’s move things on guys.”

But, then, this nearly three-hour extravaganza always gets back on the crisp and almost extraordinary funny snapshot of life on dear old Broadway.

And at Theatre by the Sea, this Tony Award winner is getting a terrific production, filled with first-class acting and movement. The sets are wonderfully amusing, over the top goofy and just right all around.

And this golden production also points out one of the major questions I had when I saw the original show back in 2001. Then, you might remember, the stars were the ineffable Nathan Lane as a failing Broadway producer and Matthew Broderick as a wildly weird sidekick.

Back in that day, I wondered if this big show could ever make it with competent but not as wildly delightful performers as Lane and Broderick.

Well, this revival, directed and choreographed by Bred Musgrove, who was in the original, proves that “The Producers” can work with other fine, if not famous, performers. 

That surely takes in Joel Briel, a veteran New York-based actor who is wonderfully honest about his character, Max Bialystock, the ever- grumpy, ever-needy Broadway dude who has come up with a highly improbable plan to produce the worst show in Broadway history and run off (to Rio, no less) with lots of dough -- and a gorgeous dancing blonde, too.

He’s bolstered by the work of Ricardo Lafleur playing Leo Bloom, a poor panic attack prone schmuck of a public accountant who falls into the Broadway bash when Max takes him to dreams of dollars.

When the two of them do songs such as “I Wanna Be a Producer” or “We Can Do it” the show reaches new high notes.

That’s also true of the work of A.G. Parks, another New York-based veteran, who is simply divine as one Franz Liebbkind, a 1950s lover of Adolf Hitler. He is so darned ridiculously funny that you completely forget his adoration of Hitler even as he fires one shot after another of a very real-appearing Luger pistol.

And, yes. “The Producers” is filled with Nazi moments. I must say that I was taken aback when the large cast arrived in black Nazi SS uniforms. But that quickly turned into a romp of fun-making, concerning the absurdity, and the anti-Nazi meaning, of it all.

“The Producers” is like that. It takes off with one seeming idea and quickly shows you it’s all a big joke. The real, made humorous.

That was well shown by two other characters. As Ulla, the voluptuous Swedish blonde bombshell who dances off to Rio with Leo, Sabrina Harper is the ultimate of the really not-so-dumb Broadway bombshell. And, Liam Johnson as the wonderfully German automobile named, Carmen Chia, gives us a gorgeously funny take concerning being the ultimate Gay Boy. He’s so super at it, you know it’s all great fun, not rough-edged humiliation.

“The Producers” then is a fine finale of a terrific season at Theater by the Sea. Even the air conditioning was first rate last weekend.

“The Producers” continues at Theatre by the Sea through September 10th.

Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Correction: An earlier version of this review failed to mention that the Tony Award-winning Broadway play "The Producers" was an adaptation of a 1960s movie of the same name. The reviewer also misidentified one of the stars of the original New York stage adaptation. The correct name is Matthew Broderick. We apologize for the error.