Be a smarty
The Producers: The Musical
I think the worst thing I can say about Truckee Meadows Community College Performing Arts’ current production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers is that it’s so faithful to its Broadway and film predecessors that it was hard to ever put them out of my mind as I watched.
But is that really a bad thing, when those predecessors are the likes of Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick?
Brooks’ classic may be a slapstick comedy, but the talent it requires is no joke—it’s a full three hours of belting out tunes, performing rigorous and challenging choreography and maintaining sharp comedic timing, all while wearing some outlandish and uncomfortable costumes. TMCC’s consistently well-rounded and talented performers execute all of this nearly flawlessly.
The story begins as once-luminary Broadway producer Max Bialystock’s latest show bombs. Max (Jeffrey Bentley) now finds himself out of money and with a growing reputation as Broadway poison.
When Leo Bloom (Cody Hamilton), Max’s anxiety-ridden accountant, offhandedly points out a Broadway flop could potentially be more profitable than a hit, Max sees dollar signs and recruits Leo to embark on such a scheme.
After some searching for the perfect bad script, the two find what they believe could be a true lead balloon: Springtime for Hitler, a musical written by Hitler fanatic Franz Liebkind (Cameron Shirey), who wears swastikas and talks to pigeons in his spare time.
With the script lined up, next comes the perfect terrible director, Roger DeBris (Ryan Kelly), a spoiled, flamboyant gay man whose prior work has been proven to stink up theaters. Add to that an airheaded, oversexed Swedish actress named Ulla (Alexa Bernal), who barely speaks English, to head up the cast, and Max and Leo feel sure they’ve got themselves the flop of their dreams.
But, as history has proven, Max Bialystock can’t spot a hit to save his life.
Despite having been written in the '60s, The Producers’ meta mockery still rings true. Show business is as much about money as it ever was—probably even more so. It’s well known that Hollywood producers aren’t in the movie business at all; they’re in the marketing business. And it’s often true that what producers think will become sure-fire hits actually bomb, while the scripts they ignore become unexpectedly successful. Part of what’s so enjoyable about The Producers is its modern-day resonance.
Producer-director Carolyn Wray hit it out of the park with this cast, which is at least 30 people deep and, for the most part, solid all the way through. (OK, a few of the ensemble actors obviously didn’t know their lines, but because they’re ensemble and ruined none of the joy for me, I’m giving them a pass.)
Foremost in my mind is Bentley as Max Bialystock, whose voice and mannerisms were at times so reminiscent of Nathan Lane it was startling. It’s a physically demanding role, both because of his character’s schlubbiness and the voice that must boom steadily, and Bentley nailed it. Hamilton epitomized everything Leo Bloom should be—jittery, nervous, frail—but as his character evolved and grew confidence, this became visible in Hamilton’s demeanor, too.
I’ve seen Kelly in numerous productions, but this is by far my favorite of his performances. Shirey is a hilarious Franz Liebkind; he can sell “freakishly obsessed about Hitler” purely with facial expressions. And Alexa Bernal is captivating as Ulla. She even manages to channel Lee Meredith, who performed the role in the original film.
And I must mention Lane Saunders, an ensemble member who you will, I promise, find unforgettable for his remarkable dancing and many other … assets.
The songs, the sets, the stunning choreography by Mig O’Hara, which includes impressive acrobatics…all of it made The Producers my favorite TMCC show ever, and one of the best locally produced musicals I’ve ever seen.