The Producers

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater

Never let it be said that a large profile show needs an enormous stage to execute fabulous musical numbers, because the tiny LGBTQQIA-friendly Celebration Theatre at the Lex has surpassed any expectations for re-creating the wonderfully funny 2001 Tony award-winning Broadway hit. On an almost impossibly small stage, 13 cast members bring to life the improbable story of producer Max Bialystock's (Richardson Jones) frenzied quest for a return to glory.

For those who need a refresher: Once King of Broadway, Bialystock has helmed a series of failed plays. When mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Christopher Jewell Valentin) arrives to inspect his books, he reveals to Max that a losing show makes more money than a winner. To a seasoned flim-flam man, that's incentive to pursue the objective of finding and producing such a vehicle. After having secured the rights to Springtime for Hitler from former Nazi, Franz Liebkind (John Colella), he reaches out to Roger De Bris (Michael A. Shepperd), a gay director with a proven track of failures, to mount the show. He is joined by Bloom, disenchanted with his tedious accounting job, whose anxieties and blossoming romantic forays with Max's bombshell secretary, Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson (Mary Ann Welshans), provide a nice foil for Max's excessive theatrical rants and outbursts. Max  needs an infusion of money to make this happen, so he 'shtups' a series of little old ladies who are willing to hand over the loot.

Also taking center stage is Carmen Ghia (Andrew Diego), described as De Bris' "common-law assistant," whose flamboyant theatrics owe a nod to the acting style reminiscent of the silent movie stars of the 1920s.

It's a toss-up as to who steals the show in this newest incarnation of The Producers. Jones is a brilliant Max, over-the-top in his extravagances. Shepperd is transformative as the oh-so-gay director-turned-actor in the Hitler production. Diego is hilariously ever-present at De Bris' side with elaborately swishy gestures, and Colella is a Nazi par-excellence. His charming dance routine is priceless. Valentin is adorably nebbishy and neurotic, especially with his blue blanket. Welshans is blonde and seductive as Mel Brooks would have imagined her.

Under the expert direction of Michael Matthews, the story re-imagines Mel Brooks' original stage production with many new twists suited to the Lex's space. To replicate the iconic dance of Max's old ladies with walkers, a show stopper in the original Broadway production, choreographer Janet Roston substitutes canes instead to save space, and the humor and absurdity still engender lusty applause from the audience. Dance numbers are executed with imagination and precision. Combined with E. B. Brooks' fantastic sausage-heavy chorine costumes for the "Springtime for Hitler" production number, Roston channels Busby Berkeley in miniature. E. B. Brooks' work shines throughout.

The ensemble (Brittany Bentley, Evan Borboa, Jasmine Ejan, Michael J. Marchak, Stephen Markarian, Angeline Mirenda, Sarah Mullis) provides the color and sparkle in production numbers and crowd scenes. Rapid costume changes transform them from theatergoers to Nazis in a nano-second, all the more amazing considering the limited space at the Lex.When the whole cast is on stage at the same time, it's a visually exciting and glorious show.

Notable is Stephen Gifford's clever scenic design, Matthew Brian Denman's bright and effective lighting, Cricket S. Myers' sound design, and Michael O'Hara's props design. Also enhancing the production are the four musicians (Anthony Zediker:keyboard/Music Director; Leigh Anne Gillespie:keyboard, Assistant Music Director; Chris Payne:drums; Phil Moore:reeds) who capably provide the live music that amps up the charm of the show.

Though credit must be given the the original creators (Mel Brooks: book, music, lyrics; Thomas Meehan: book; Susan Stroman: original choreography), this show takes a fresh look at some of the characterizations and scenes taking it in a slightly new direction.

Though the often politically incorrect situations and dialogue might cause some to question this parody, it is as fresh and funny as ever, partly due to the relentlessly fiendish delight of the director and actors. Finding comedy these days that can bring forth belly laughs and be outrageous without editorial comment is a tough task. Thankfully, the folks at the Celebration embrace their mission to present high quality work that perpetuates the goals of small theaters in L.A.