“The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ irreverent musical comedy about two Broadway swindlers whose plan to produce the perfect money-making flop goes awry, is one of those timeless mainstays of theater that bears staging on a regular basis.
Yet, while its masterful, award-winning script, music and lyrics would seem to promise a sure-fire hit, the show is not without some very daunting challenges.
Thankfully for Lehigh Valley audiences, the MunOpCo Music Theatre has tackled those challenges in its area community-theater production debut of “The Producers” at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown, where it opened Sept. 16 and 17 and continues at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 and 2 p.m. Sept. 25, and has come out with a winner. The show opened Sept. 16 and 17 and continues at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 and 2 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1533 Hamilton St., Allentown.
The major challenge, of course, is casting. It is crucial to the success of this play. Bill Mutimer as lead character Max Bialystock, provides just the right blend of the bombastic, comic timing and believable demeanor as the despicable theatrical con man. He is on stage during most of the play, and maintains an incredible level of energy throughout. He is also an accomplished singer, which is a real plus.
Bialystock’s partner in crime, mousy accountant Leo Bloom, is played by Seth Rohrbach. This is his first appearance in a MunOpCo production, but not his first starring role in a musical. As Bloom, he provides a stabilizing contrast to the sometimes over-the-top Bialystock.
Chip Rohrbach plays the Fuhrer-loving German playwright Franz Liebkind, author of the “Springtime for Hitler,” the play-within-the-play that Bialystock thinks will be a sure-fire flop. Rohrbach got a laugh as soon as the lights came up on him on stage, before he even spoke a word, and it was non-stop laughter until the end of the scene.
Director Rody Gilkeson, theater director for 17 years at Notre Dame High School, Bethlehem Township, has taken on a myriad of exhausting tasks with “The Producers,” blocking and directing 21 different musical numbers and 26 scenes, with support from choreographer Joey Shubert and music director Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, who plays Ulla, the curvaceous Swedish secretary. From the level of the audience’s laughter and enthusiastic applause, and the standing ovation at the conclusion of the opening night, Sept. 17, performance which was seen for this review, Gilkeson clearly hit his mark.
Among the most memorable of the many memorable scenes were the “I Wanna Be a Producer” number with Bloom and his fellow public accountants. The set was visually striking, and the ensemble worked perfectly together with Rohrbach.
The Act I finale, with 16 identically-dressed “old” women dancing with their walkers was Mel Brooks’ brilliant concept, and even given the stage limitations, MunOpCo couldn’t have done it better.
Of course, “Springtime for Hitler” is the defining moment for “The Producers,” and the MunOpCo production didn’t disappoint. Hitler is so well played by Matt Walczer (who also plays Roger De Bris) that he becomes such a caricature of a buffoon that, as Brooks so brilliantly understood, the audience suspends any association with the real Fuhrer. The scene’s pacing and music was appropriately frenzied, but this time the choreography, which on the whole carried the show along respectfully, just didn’t quite keep up.
Despite winning 12 Tony Awards, the most in theater history, questions continue to be asked about how such a tasteless, sexist, bigoted play as “The Producers” continues to attract and delight audiences. The best answer seems to come in Brooks’ own words, delivered in the character of the reviewer writing about “Springtime for Hitler”: “It was outrageous and insulting, and I loved every minute of it.”
What more is there to say?
Tickets: munopco, 610-437-2441