- Reporters Desk
By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer
There are at least two reasons you need to see The Producers, the Broadway adaptation of Mel Brooks’ legendary film.
The first is sheer delight.
The Producers at the Norris Center for the Performing Arts is not quite so big as its Broadway brother. A few of the special effects (but just a very few) are lost on the smaller stage. What little is lost in spectacle (including a Busby-Berkeley effect in one dance number) is more than made up for with the very intimacy of the performance. Everything is up close and very personal, from the very lovely show-girls in the chorus to love in Leo Bloom.
If you don’t know the story you’ll be the only one. Max Bialystock is a famous Broadway producer on his umpteenth flop. Leo Bloom is his accountant and comes up with a scheme: Sell 200 percent of a sure to fail show and retire on the proceeds. Problem is, the show they decide to go wrong with is Springtime for Hitler and instead of being a notorious failure is a smash success.
Brooks expanded his film for Broadway, wrote a dozen new songs and saves his big number, Springtime for Hitler, for the second act. It’s a long show (about two-and-one-half hours). It never flags, filled with energy and with remarkable performances from the stars.
The second reason you need to see The Producers is a simple one: If patrons of musical theater don’t stand up for the art form this month, this week, it could soon be just a fond memory.
In the past few years musicals have become an endangered species. Long Beach used to have two flourishing companies producing musicals, Musical Theatre West and the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. Now only Musical Theatre West remains. The company that competed with Musical Theatre West in the mid-2000s has also retreated to its Missouri home. Los Angeles Civic Light Opera has been dead for 20 years or so. Long Beach Civic Light Opera is just a distant memory. Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities was going to move to San Pedro two years ago, but has folded its tent for financial reasons. Now, Downey Civic Light Opera, after 58 years in production, has been forced out of its home by a new management company and is closing. Only Musical Theatre West and 3-D Theatricals in Fullerton are left standing.
The NorrisCenter is still in the game. The Producers is a first-rate professional production, using backdrops and props from the national tour of the Broadway show, which won more Tony awards —12 — than any show before or since. It features 22 cast members, some doubling in as many as 14 roles, with the 22-song score played by a 15-piece pit orchestra.
And, the cast couldn’t be much better. Nick Santa Maria is Max, and if he isn’t quite Nathan Lane, the Broadway original, he lets you know in an aside and you’ll probably be wondering what Lane could do that Santa Maria couldn’t. His Max knows he is a failure, but he keeps hoping, keeps collecting checks from the Little Old Ladies he seduces. And he befriends Leo Bloom (Marc Ginsburg), who has the original idea for their scam and grows from a schlemiel without a first name (even in kindergarten he was always called “Bloom”) to a sophisticated producer.
Of course, part of that is caused by Ulla (Elaine Hayhurst), who in the stage version is much more than just a body. She falls in love with Leo and proves to be more than just a Swedish flirt. James W. Gruessing is Franz Liebkind, the loveable neo-Nazi whose plays is chosen to flop. He does a great job being obviously offensive. Ken Prescott is over-the-top as Roger DeBris, who is not only the show’s very gay director but its last-minute star. Jon W. Walsh is a delight as Carmen Ghia, his assistant and lover.
The rest of the cast is wonderful and incredibly energetic, from the dancers, male and female (the show uses the original choreography and direction of the show by Susan Stroman, under director Matthew J. Vargo) to the theatrical personnel. And, if you go, stay after the show to hear the orchestra, directed by Daniel Thomas.
In January, the Norris is offering The 39 Steps and in April The Drowsy Chaperone. Both are certain to be great productions.
Tickets are $45. Performances are at 8 p.m. Oct. 4 and 5 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 6.