ELLSWORTH — Just when you thought a night at the theater would be a nice break from the current cringe-worthy political atmosphere featuring licentious predation, moral turpitude and neo-Nazis, along comes Mel Brooks’ Broadway hit musical “The Producers.”
The show, which opened at The Grand Auditorium last weekend, is about a fading hot-shot producer, Max Bialystock, who, after one theatrical failure after the other, learns from his “apprentice” — an accountant named Leo Bloom — that he can actually make more money with a flop than a successful Broadway show — in essence going bankrupt and leaving the investors with the loss. Any of this sound familiar?
In order to make this scheme work, Max preys on a gaggle of well-heeled old gals to finance the new show while Leo cooks the books.
The conniving pair believes they have found the perfect vehicle for their future flop in a lovingly earnest, musical tribute to the Third Reich titled “Springtime for Hitler.” Really, they reason, what can possibly go right with a show that celebrates the absolute worst in human nature? Hmmm.
But here’s the big difference between The Grand show and recent CNN broadcasts: while the current political scene elicits shudders, “The Producers” is actually hilarious. While at first the laughs were a bit tentative at last Saturday night’s show, eventually the team of Bialystock and Bloom — perfectly paired and played by Robin Jones and Paul Allen — won the audience over.
Jones channels his inner hyperactive wiseass kid as Bialystock — his second act solo synopsis, “Betrayed,” is a tour de force — and his Brooklyn-by-way-of Yiddish accent is so good he should be voted an honorary Jew by the B’nai B’rith. Allen as the anxiety-ridden Bloom melts your heart with his sweet open smile and even sweeter voice. Before you know it, you’re rooting for their mashugana, goose-stepping, swastika-wearing scheme to work.
This cast is full of talented men. Baritone Steve Gormley as Franz Liebkind, author of the horrible “Springtime for Hitler,” is a complete hoot. Alternately cooing to his pigeons, (great props there by the way), shouting orders like an obermeister or getting slap-happy with a silly Bavarian folk dance, he is the most endearing Nazi one is ever likely to encounter. Perennial Gilbert & Sullivan Society fan fave Roland Dube plays Roger DeBris, the incompetent director Bialystock and Bloom have hired to ensure their moneymaking failure.
Dube is at his comic best as he singlehandedly transforms a sure flop into a comedic hit when he steps in at the last minute to play a thoroughly flouncy Fuhrer. Dube’s usual terrific tenor appeared to have been compromised by laryngitis opening weekend, but what he lacked in projection he made up for in body language. The men in the smaller parts — Steve Robbins, Steve Estey, Jeffery Servetas, Tim Searchfield and Jonathan Wood — also did a terrific job in multiple roles.
There were some great women in the cast as well — most notably Ashley Terwilliger as the luscious and leggy Ulla, who makes the boyish Bloom, uh, bloom into a man, and Bonnie Hardy as one of Max’s most ardent, elderly admirers.
And speaking of elderly admirers, the chorus of gray-haired grannies, choreographed by Sachi Cote, dancing with their walkers was the hilarious showstopper of the evening.
The set, especially Bialystock’s office with its colorful view of Broadway wonderfully realized by Ashley Harris, worked well. With a small budget and many costume changes, costume designer Chris Dougherty rose to the challenge with Bialystock’s period suits, DeBris’s fabulous entrance gown and those wonderful grannies.
The orchestra, directed by Dana Ross, like the cast in general, is rather sparse for this big show, but sounded fine although, because of the spotty nature of The Grand’s sound system, at times overpowered the singers. An excellent violin solo from Amanda Cushman must be noted.
Directors Ken Stack and Michael Weinstein’s combined efforts made for a cohesive, high energy, fun show, which despite being almost too relevant or reminiscent of current events left its audience laughing.
Showtimes for “The Producers” are Oct 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, Oct. 23 and 30, at 2 p.m.
To reserve seats, call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.