SKOKIE, Ill.—Max Bialystok walks out of “Funny Boy,” his reinvention of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which he has just produced in a Broadway theater. He reads the reviews of the show—“It was the worst show ever” and “Everybody is dead; they were the lucky ones.” That opening scene is just the beginning of the hilarious show “The Producers,” which was interrupted throughout by laughter and applause from the appreciative theatergoers at the Music Theater Works in Skokie, Illinois.
Indeed, the shrieks of laughter from the audience become ever more raucous as Mel Brooks’s madcap and irreverent humor roll out in this delicious, exuberant production. Not only is this a riot of a fun show, but in the midst of our world in disarray, this is just the feel-good tonic we all need.
How 'The Producers' Came to BeAfter he was discharged from his stint in the army after World War II, Mel Brooks came up with the idea for satirizing Broadway while he worked for a real Broadway producer and recalled the job when he wrote and directed “The Producers” a movie, which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in 1967.
A Loser’s Life on BroadwayWhile the story in the film and on stage are basically the same, the musical is even more outrageously farcical and satirical. The plot centers on Bialystok, a loser on Broadway who yearns for success, and his partner Bloom, a neurotic and unhappy accountant. Bloom is the one who realizes that someone could make more money producing flops than box-office hits.
The two men read through hundreds of plays looking for the worst play they can find—the kind of play that will offend everyone, the kind of play that everyone will hate, the kind of play guaranteed to close within hours of opening. They believe they have found such a work with “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.”
Once they get the rights to the play, written as a love letter to Hitler by Franz Liebkind (Sam Nachison whose comic German caricature is a hoot), Max and Leo have to find the worst director in the world. They don’t have to go too far to come up with Roger de Bris (in an over-the-top romp by Steve McDonagh).
As Max Bialystok, Thomas M. Shea delivers burlesque antics that recall the great vaudevillian clowns of yesteryear. And as Bialystok’s partner in crime, Leo Bloom, David Geinosky almost steals the show as he clutches a piece of his childhood blue blanket in desperation.
Susan Stroman’s original dance numbers are reprised by choreographer Darryl K. Clark who captures the ribald entertainment of elderly women clicking up their heels and dancing with their walkers, as well as a parade of German dancers who are hilariously costumed by Rachel M. Sypniewski.
Not only is this show a cornucopia of laughs, but it also provides terrific musical direction by Eugene Dizon who brings out the best in Brooks’s songbook, including “Springtime for Hitler,” “Prisoners of Love,” “Haben Sie Gehört das Deutsche Band,” “Keep it Gay,” and Brooks’s personal favorite “We Can Do It.”
“The Producers” is more captivating and more off-the-wall laughable than it’s ever been. The one minor quibble with it is that it’s closing too soon. From the roaring applause of the audience, it could have run for many more weeks.
If you want to have a rollicking good time, run to see the show before it closes.