Moonlight Stage Productions opening of its 39th Season featured a version of the Mel Brooks musical, The Producers. The solid production was almost overshadowed, though, by the simultaneous announcement of the company’s 40th season.
The Producers is Mel Brooks’ musicalized stage version of his 1968 cult classic film. A love letter to the Broadway stage masquerading as a tale of shenanigans engaged in by unscrupulous producers (is there any other kind?), it features dancing Nazis, horny little old ladies, and over-the-top gay men (well, there is one lesbian). Mr. Brooks “equal offender” policy allows him to laugh out loud at groups that normally don’t enjoy being kidded (lots of bullying will do that to you).
The Broadway production starred Nathan Lane as producer Max Bialystock (affectionately known as “Bialy”) and Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom, a public accountant (not the certified kind) who dreams of being a Broadway producer. Bloom discovers that Bialystock’s latest flop has accidentally failed to spend all of the money that was raised, and the two concoct a scheme to find the worst possible play, put on the worst possible production of it, and then take the large amount of money raised to do so and head off to Rio to live a life of luxury.
There’s only one catch. It all explodes if the play is a hit.
Susan Stroman made a big name for herself by directing and choreographing the original production, and it was a huge hit while the two stars, who had enormous chemistry with each other, were performing the roles. Things didn’t go as well, though, when other actors took over the leads.
Moonlight has imported the Broadway production for this run. It features Robin Wagner’s original sets, William Ivey Long’s costumes (as fitting to this production by Carlotta Malone, Roz Lehman, and Renetta Lloyd), and Ms. Stroman’s choreography, which Karl Warden recreated. Doing so means that the leads’ chemistry is important to the show’s success.
And those leads are veteran Moonlight and Broadway actor Jamie Torcellini as Max and production director Larry Raben, who also played Leo on Broadway. They are well-matched, in the sense that in Mr. Raben’s hands Leo doesn’t let Max overwhelm him. It really is the Leo and Max show as much as it is the Max and Leo show.
Because Max is not THE star and all else is subordinate, there is room for featured performers to stand out. And they do: Luke Harvey Jacobs as the Nazi playwright, Josh Adamson as the washed-up director, and Max Cadillac, doing an especially nice turn as Carmen Ghia, the director’s lover and major domo.
But, the breakout performance of the night goes to the perfectly-cast Katie Barna as Ulla, who doubles as the producers’ Swedish secretary and lead dancer in the musical-within-the-musical. She’s every bit the equal partner to her two bosses, and her terrific dancing stands out, in a good way, of course.
Mr. Raben’s stage direction keeps the show moving smoothly, as does Lyndon Pugeda’s music direction and conducting.
What almost overwhelmed a fine start to the 2019 season was the traditional announcement of the 2020 season, made on opening night. Producing Artistic Director Steven Glaudini told the audience that the company would be extending its summer season by a month, beginning in May with An American in Paris and continuing with productions of Something Rotten!, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Ragtime, and Kinky Boots.
Whatever added excitement 2020 may bring, The Producers got 2019 at Moonlight off to a fine start.