Trying to fail

MSMT finds a hit in a flop
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 9, 2008
theater_producers475.jpg
TAKING IT LYING DOWN: The Producers.

The Producers | by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan | Directed and choreographed by Marc Robin | Produced by the Maine State Music Theatre, in Brunswick | through July 12 | 207.725.8769
Mounting a hit show is a tough business. There are scripts to sift, dollars to raise, and diva theater people to contend with — not to mention those callous, snarky critics. Failure is always an option. After the particularly grand failure of Funny Boy, a musical comedy version of Hamlet, veteran Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Ed Romanoff) is not just resigned to failure: He is banking on it. With a few funny numbers in the books, a flop will fill his pockets with much more surety than any genuine theatrical effort. That, at least, is the plan of Max and his accountant-turned-co-conspirator Leo Bloom (Chuck Ragsdale) in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, on stage in a gloriously loony production at the Maine State Music Theatre, under the direction of Marc Robin. [Please see correction, below.]

Bialystock and Bloom believe they’ve found the best of all possible failures in the script Springtime for Hitler (“a gay romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgaden”), a musical comedy penned by Franz, a nostalgic, pigeon-loving Greenwich Village Nazi in lederhosen and a helmet (Curt Dale Clark). So armed, and with the assistance of a fantastically blonde and sexually liberated Swedish secretary/actress Ulla (the lovely and mellifluous Amy Bodnar), Max and Leo set out to find and sign on the greatest failures of the theater world.

They make a quintessential slapstick pair — Max, the robust, paunched lech, and Leo, the timid, skinny virgin — and in stellar performances, Romanoff and Ragsdale keep the spirit of caricature gleefully soaring. Romanoff’s swagger and jaded, wise-guy charm are perfectly matched with the quivering ingénue destined to vault out of his shell. Ragsdale has a ball with Leo’s arc from fragile plebe to man-of-the-world, and a particular hoot is his number “I Wanna be a Producer:” In his dour clerk’s office filled with identical flinching clerks (“Unhappy. Unhappy. Very, very, very unhappy,” they chorus), he launches into a doozy of a fantasy song and dance, complete with a swirling spot and nubile chorus girls.

As Max and Leo strive for their beautiful flop, they traffic with some of the most spectacularly spoofed characters in the theater of theater. We meet the most fabulous of them in the affectionately outrageous number “Keep it Gay,” in which the silver-gowned director Roger De Bris (Stuart Marland) explains why fluffy comedies are de rigueur on Broadway. Under the command of Roger and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Raymond Marc Dumont, in skin-tight black and a purple chiffon scarf) there’s a whole coterie: Bryan the Lighting Designer (Matthew Steffens), in black leather chaps; Kevin the Costume Designer (John-Charles Kelly), in mod-ish pastels and feathered hair; Robin the Choreographer (Joey Abramowicz), who enters gymnastically and with an enormous package; and Shirley the Lighting Designer (Connie Shafer), a weathered fag-hag perennially with cigarette. The whole crew is decadently funny, impeccably costumed by Irene Kay Peterson (see especially her get-ups for the play-within-a-play — pretzel pasties!), and endowed with moves as smooth as Bryan’s hairless bicep.

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Related: To the Max, Musical man, Transformations, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Adolf Hitler, Dance,  More more >
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