Nancy Sasso Janis
The 2015/2016 national tour of ‘The Producers,’ “Broadway’s Smash Hit,” stopped for one night only at Waterbury’s majestic Palace Theater and I was glad to be in the house. The Mel Brooks musical features a book written by Thomas Meehan and Mr. Brooks, with music and lyrics by Mr. Brooks and original direction and amazing choreography by Susan Stroman. Nigel West directed the production and Lauren Kadel choreographed.
I think I may have seen the film version once because I recognize the names of many of the pigeon puppeteers as coworkers of my cousin Tim Lagasse. As I sat watching the musical version, I realized how much I had forgotten about it. It probably allowed me to enjoy the production just a little bit more. It was a fun, old fashioned romp with lots of humor, very well-executed costumes and yes, the puppet pigeons.
As in the film, the story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop and complications arise when the show within a show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show draws on ridiculous accents, broad caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes, some of which were hurled at critics.
The songs fit the broad characters very well and the orchestra conducted by Peter Leigh-Nilsen was superb. I worried that the politically incorrectness might be more offensive, but it really wasn’t and the over the top gay characters were so much fun to watch.
The two leading roles of the theatrical producers were obviously perfectly cast when Max was played by Nathan Lane and Leo was played by Matthew Broderick. David Johnson had non-stop energy as the established producer Max Bialystock and Richard Lafleur made his national tour debut in the role of the younger Leo Bloom, displaying lots of physical comedy that was pretty endearing.
John B. Boss played the flamboyant director Roger De Bris and J. Ryan Carroll knocked it out of the park in the role of his adoring assistant Carmen Ghia. Thomas Slater played the intense Franz Liebkind, the playwright of what was supposed to be the worst play ever written. Jessica Ernest played Ulla, the tall and beautiful Swedish lady who covers the office while she waits to play a part in the show.
The large ensemble had some great scenes as sad accountants, Bavarian peasants and German showgirls that were cliched yet funny, and especially as identically dressed little old ladies dancing with their walkers. An eclectic cast of characters for sure, but it worked. Although it wasn’t exactly what I expected, I did enjoy the show, as did the patrons around me. I look forward to returning to the Palace next week for the national tour of ‘White Christmas’ where local musicians Leo Lavallee will be in the pit playing trumpet and Joseph Jacavino will be on keyboard.