Review: The Producers

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Forget Iron Man and Indiana Jones!  This is not the summer of the film blockbuster but the summer of the stage blockbuster!

The Producers makes a delightful appearance at the Stanley Theatre and even with the weather turning decidedly summer-like, Vancouver theatre-goers should be flocking to see this one despite the temptations of the sun (or at least warmer temperatures).

Based on the 1968 movie with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (in an odd turn that could only happen in Hollywood, the 2005 movie with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick was actually based on the stage play which was based on the original movie), The Producers tells the story of Max Bialystock (Jay Brazeau) and Leopold Bloom (Josh Epstein) out to create Broadway’s biggest flop in an effort to swindle dozens of “little old ladies” of two million dollars by over-subscribing the investors in the show.  Needless to say the show, “Springtime for Hitler”, is instead a huge hit.

But a word of warning here – despite the wonderful acting, singing and dancing throughout the show, in the end one cannot forget that this is a Mel Brooks show.  You know, Mel Brooks of “Blazing Saddles”, “Spaceballs” and “Young Frankenstein” fame.  If you are looking for a “tasteful” show without some delicious irreverence, side-splitting slapstick and an over-abundance of stereotypes you had better high-tail it to Bard on the Beach instead because you ain’t gonna find it here!  Consider yourself warned.

Jay Brazeau and the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Producers. Photo by David Cooper.
Jay Brazeau and the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s
production of The Producers. Photo by David Cooper.

By far the strongest voice of the principal characters (perhaps only matched by Terra C. MacLeod as Ula) Josh Epstein plays the neurotic and nerdy accountant, Leopold Bloom, to near perfection.  Jay Brazeau’s larger-than-life Bialystock is a nice match to Epstein and the pairing of Mark Burgess as Roger DeBris and Ron Pederson as Carmen Ghia is absolutely perfect casting (not to mention funny).  And of course, audience favourite, Jackson Davies, takes on the frenetically psychotic role of Franz, the neo-Nazi pigeon-loving playwright with great abandon.

But more than just the stand-out leads, this show is also about the supporting cast who play everything from the blind violinist, the anatomically endowed choreographer to the gaggle of “little old ladies”.  This supporting ensemble does a superb job.  A special mention has to go to the Roger DeBris “team” who played off each other so well that one has to wonder what extra time Director Bill Millerd must have spent with them to get it just so right.

Speaking of Director Millerd, it is indeed through him which the full-on Mel Brooks treatment is realized.  From the Busby Berkeley overhead shot during “Springtime for Hitler” to the chorus line of dancing “little old ladies” in walkers, Millerd helps bring the Brooks’ complete vision to life.

Of course, choreographer Valerie Easton aids Millerd in getting the most of all of these scenes with some very detailed choreography including the aforementioned “Springtime” and chorus line.  In fact, Easton packed the larger dance numbers with so much detail I am positive some of the dance numbers would look completely different on a second viewing.

This is a great end to what was an uneven season for the Arts Club Theatre Company.  Light, frivolous and extremely funny, The Producers is that summer-time treat much like the first ice-cream cone of the season.

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