Last night, we went to go see the “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. “The Producers” is an interesting piece. The original movie was a classic, with genius performances by folks such as Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Dick Shawn. The Broadway musical version wasn’t as much genius as it was hyped to be or that its number of Tonys led one to think it was: it was Mel Brooks on stage with Mel’s unique level of Jewish humor, augmented by great choreography by Susan Stroman and wonderful wonderful sets. What set it apart—what made that show—was the chemistry between Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (this was captured in the 2005 film, which was essentially the stage show on film, which is why it failed). We saw “The Producers” on stage in 2003 or so at the Pantages with Jason Alexander and Martin Short—which had its own form of manic energy. I had the opportunity to see “The Producers” again last year when the Aerospace Players at work did it, but having seen their production of “Caberet”, I just couldn’t see this show at the amateur level. This all brings us to Cabrillo.
Wait, you’re saying you’ve never heard of “The Producers”? Rent the 1968 movie. Seriously, the show tells a story of a failing formerly famous Broadway producer whose accountant points out that, under the right circumstances, you could make more money with a flop than a hit. The circumstances are: it must close on opening night. So they set out to make a guaranteed flop: a musical about a singing and dancing Adolph Hitler called “Springtime for Hitler”. Starting with the worse play, they get the worst director, the worst actor, and worst cast. And what happens? It is a smash success. The failure producer goes off to jail; his accountant partner goes to Rio with the buxom secretary. Along the way there are numerous old-lady sex jokes, gay jokes, Jewish jokes, in jokes about Broadway, and insults to almost every ethnic group you can think of. Typical Mel Brooks.
Cabrillo did a credible job with the show, but there was something missing that was hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it was the fact that I had seen the show numerous times before, and thus the jokes that are “in your face” funny the first time and perhaps the second don’t have the same resonance after many years. Perhaps it was the cast: they were good but they weren’t (at least in the leads) inspired to the level of “manic” that Mostel/Wilder or Lane/Broderick or even Alexander/Short could bring. Perhaps it was the sets, which didn’t go to the over-the-top level of the Broadway sets, but were the more limited National Tour sets, showing their age. Perhaps that’s the problem: this is a show that shows its age—it has gone quickly from the timeless to the shopworn. If it is not at the level of outrageous and over-the-top, it rapidly succumbs to the “just a musical”. A good musical. A well-executed musical. But not the comic juggernaut of the original.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments. During the intermisson portion of “Betrayed”, Max (Michael Kostroffæ) turns to the audience and says, “I understand your next show is “Sound of Music”. Another musical about singing Nazis”. Good line. Chris Caldwell Eckert (diswiz, ) was over-the-top as Carmen Ghia, especially in the little moments where he was able to milk the schtick. David Engelæ was a delight as Roger DeBris and even better as Hilter where the over-the-top asides to the Orchestra were spectacular.
What makes the show was the leads, and although they were good, they were missing the manic. As Max Bialystock, Max Kostroffæ () came across as a cross between Mel Brooks and Jon Lovitz. He was good in the role; he knew the role; he knew the moves…. but he wasn’t over-the-top outrageous. This was at its most obvious during “Betrayed”, which needs to be a comic tour-de-force but came off as more subdued. Better was Larry Rabenæ () as Leo Bloom. He had the boyish charm, and seemed to be channeling Matthew Broderick, and was closer to over-the-top. He worked well with Kostroff, and it was clear they have done these roles many times before. It was a comfortable chemistry, giving you what was expected. I wanted the unexpected.
The second tier was excellent, with a number of highlight-worthy performances. As noted before, David Engelæ was a delight as Roger DeBris. Also enjoyable for her performance was Sarah Cornellæ as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson (Bloom), particularly in the quality of her singing (and her belting) and her dancing. Also strong was James W. Gruessing () as Franz Liebkind—I especially enjoyed his performance in “Have You Ever Heard the German Band”.
The third tier was mostly a well blended ensemble, but there were a few notables. As I mentioned before, Chris Caldwell Eckert (diswiz, ) was a great Carmen Ghia. I also want to single out Jennifer Strattan () in the multiple roles of a showgirl/Shirley Markowitz/Kiss Me-Feel Me. This is obviously a comic relief role, and Stratten does a lot with the little roles and was a joy to watch. Rounding out the cast, in various other roles (first nighters, denizens of New York, accountants, showgirls, pigeons, little old ladies, storm troopers, convicts) in addition to what I list, were Whitney Ackerman () (Officer O’Reilly), Joseph Almohaya (Bryan the Set Designer, Jack LaPidus, Judge), Kathryn Burns, Farley Cadena () (Hold-Me Touch-Me), Nicola Harrington (Usherette), Keenon Hooks () (Officer O’Houllihan), Natasha Hugger (), Elizabeth Johnson, Nick Lorenzini () (Lead Stormtrooper), Lindsay McDonald () (Usherette, Lick-Me Bite-Me), Chris Pow (Officer O’Rourke), Kelly Roberts (Mr. Marx, Kevin the Costume Designer, Seargent), Veronica Stevens, Timothy Stokel () (Scott the Choreographer, Donald Dinsmore), and Tonya Washington. There were some areas where this ensemble seemed smaller than I imagined it should be, especially in “Along Came Bialy”, where there were a number of men dancing as old women.
Technically, the production used sets from the national tour designed by Robin Wagner and costumes designed by William Ivey Long, provided by NETworks Presentations. The sets didn’t work work on the Cabrillo stage, often requiring scrims to reduce the stage size down, which truly deminished them. Lighting was by Christina L. Munich and was pretty good—the ubiquitous follow-spot wasn’t too intrusive, and there was good use of gobos and stage lighting. Sound Design was by Jonathan Burke and was unobtrusive, seeming as if amplification wasn’t being used heavily. I did note he did use the Mel Brooks vocal clip during Springtime for Hitler. Wardrobe was supervised by Christine Gibson, with Mark Travis Hoyer doing Hair and Makeup Design. Allie Roy was back as production stage manager, assisted by Michelle Stann and Jessica Standifer.
The production was directed by Steven Glaudini, who kept the portrayals pretty well in line. Matthew J. Vargo provided the choreography, buliding upon his previous presentations of this work at MTW and the St. Louis MUNY. Darryl Archibald once again led the great Cabrillo 17-piece orchestra—it is a rarety to see such a nicely-sized live orchestra in this day and age.
Alas, Cabrillo has lost their long time president Carole W. Nussbaum, meaning that Lewis Wilkenfeld, artistic director, did the introductions. He was much less organized and more rambling, but it was still nice to see the introductions remain. Cabrillo did announce their 2011-2012 season: “Annie” (October 14-23, 2011); “Ring of Fire” (February 3-12, 2012); “Once Upon a Matress” (April 20-29, 2012); and “Meet Me In St. Louis” (July 20-29, 2012). Mostly shows we haven’t seen before, so it looks to be a good season.
The last performance of “The Producers” at Cabrillo is tonight.
Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Tonight sees us at our second show of the weekend: “Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. April 24 was to bring “God of Carnage” at the Ahmanson Theatre, but the Hottix sold out in ½ hour… so we may try to get rush tickets (for they are not selling rear balcony in advance). The last weekend of April brings another concert: (this is a concert heavy year, it seems): Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May starts with our penultimate Pasadena Playhouse production, “George Gershwin Alone“, on May 7. The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings “Cabaret” at REP East on May 28 (note: “Dear World“, which was to have been at the Lyric Theatre, appears to have been cancelled). June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple (now a maybe), and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with “Jerry Springer: The Opera“ (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 22 or 23, Hollywood Bowl, pending ticketing); “Shrek” (July 23 or 24, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed).