by Kathryn Cross
For the next two weekends, the Norris Theatre will be bursting with uproarious jokes, never-ending laughter, genial show tunes, and astonishing talent.
This is Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” the multi-award-winning show that tells the story of a rogue Broadway producer and an apprehensive accountant who try to create the worst Broadway show in history in order to oversell their interests. As they scour New York City for the worst script, director, and actors, they are caught in numerous funny situations that leave the audience with that wonderful feeling of laughing until they are out of breath.
Even before the show starts, the audience’s breath is taken away. Upon entering the theater, we are amazed at the lavish chandeliers, red velvet seats, and pleasant refreshments that complement the benevolent ushers, Laurel Petti and Cori Cable Kidder. The friendliness continues past the ushers, however. Just before the show begins, the audience is told to greet one another and continue Norris Theatre’s tradition of amiability. When the show begins, the theater’s gifts keep coming.
One of the first presents is wrapped with colorful humor and tied with a musical bow. It is in the form of the infamous producer Max Bialystock, played by Nick Santa Maria, who starts with a song about how horrible his most recent show was. From his first notes, his stalwart voice and wide range flows throughout the theater and, unlike most mundane musicals, the song is not a random outburst. Rather, it contributes to the plot and provides a catchy tune. His vast talent as an actor is also displayed when he gives an extremely convincing portrayal of the money-driven womanizer that is Max Bialystock. He is clearly an experienced humorous actor because of his perfectly delivered jokes. He is such a witty comedian that at one point in the play he recalls all of what has happened to him since he started working with Bloom. He even stops to mention the intermission filled with monotonous small talk. And through it all, he never drops character.
Another job-well-done must be given to Marc Ginsburg, who plays Leo Bloom, Bialystock’s co-producer. Bloom is excellently depicted as the anxious, yet wholesome and friendly accountant who has big dreams of being a successful Broadway producer. Ginsburg represents Bloom as a man of low self-esteem, making the audience sympathize with him and thus giving him a likeability factor. His hilarious hysteria also brings out some great guffaws. Bloom also adds an element of romance when he dreamily falls in love with the Swedish Ulla, magnificently played by Elaine Hayhurst. Not only does she keep a consistent Swedish accent throughout her performance, but she makes Ulla the perfectly bewitching damsel in distress. Hayhurst also dances very well, which includes Ulla’s show-stopping, melodious song, “When You Got It, Flaunt It,” that is likely still stuck in the audience’s heads.
Among the best parts of “The Producers” are the set, props, and costumes. They all contribute to the realism of 1950s New York City life, humor, and plot. For instance, the streetwalker wears a revealing red dress, stacks of scripts are glued to one another with a humorously exaggerating effect, and jails are depicted as massive rows of depressing cells after depressing cells.
Above all, the script’s and actors’ facetiousness must be acknowledged. Even the most serious of people erupt with ebullient laughs as a gay boss, played by Ken Prescott, and his assistant belt out the hilarious song, “Make it Gay.” It features the all-gay band of a nearly naked champagne server and Jon Wailin’s priceless performance of the gay gothic, ballerina-esque assistant. Other jocular and convivial moments come from Bialystock and Bloom’s show, “Springtime for Hitler.” The showgirls dancing with pretzels and sausages on their heads and hips is unquestionably a whimsical moment of the satire. Although it is a melancholy reminder of one of the greatest tragedies in history, the jokes are amusing and definitely not offensive towards anyone, except Adolf Hitler.
One down side to “The Producers” is its length. The show goes on for three hours, including intermission. However, the audience is enthralled throughout every minute of it. Additionally, the vulgarity and mature humor limit the audience to those 12 years of age and up. Nonetheless, the humor, amazing thespians, fabulous crew, and the moral of friendship between Bialystock and Bloom, makes “The Producers” worthy of all of its Tonys. The Norris Theatre’s rendition of “The Producers” is unequivocally a most entertaining show and their standing ovation is well deserved.
The Producers is being staged through October 6 at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays in the Norris Theatre, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates. Tickets, $45. Call (310)544-0403 or go to norriscenter.com.