Broad Street was transformed into Broadway when Mel Brooks’ musical sensation, “The Producers,” graced the stage of the Merriam Theater Jan. 16.
For those who don’t want to sell their plasma to enjoy an evening of theater, seeing a traveling company version of the top Broadway productions can be a satisfying alternative.
“The Producers” tells the story of frustrated Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, who can’t seem to find success. Just when Max is about to give up, in walks Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who convinces Max that he could make more of a profit if his show were a flop.
Together Max and Leo make all the wrong choices to ensure their show, “Springtime for Hitler,” is the worst show on Broadway and, in the process, they find some of the most bizarre characters in town.
From Franz Liebkind, Hitler’s biggest admirer and author of the show “Springtime for Hitler,” to cross-dressing director Roger “Elizabeth” De Bris and his “common law” assistant Carmen Ghia, it seems that each will spoil the show. And then there’s the Swedish seductress Ulla who rises from secretary to starlet when she gets a part in their show.
While Leo and Ulla find love, Max is busy “fundraising” by seducing frisky and affluent old ladies. In the meantime, Max and Leo are doing everything they can to sabotage the show.
With musical gems like “Keep it Gay” and the spectacle of its signature song “Springtime for Hitler,” “The Producers” has a unique repertoire of performances oozing with Mel Brooks’ humor; it deserves all 12 of the Tony Awards it has received.
When a show is known not only for its content, but also for the actors who originated its roles, anyone else who attempts to take on the part faces a tremendous challenge. In this production, the cast lives up to the challenge.
Bob Amaral’s Max is witty and highly comedic, but displays a vulnerability that makes him a likable character. Andy Taylor gives a hilarious performance as Leo, a compulsive and insecure straight man with a few dreams of his own. Rich Affannato is hilarious as Carmen Ghia. His comic timing is on-point and is the perfect complement to Stuart Marland’s fabulous Robert De Bris. Though Ida Leigh Curtis gives a dazzling performance as Ulla the Swedish bombshell, she milks her accent too much and her lines get lost in the translation.
This show about a show is not only about a gay Hitler and horny old ladies dancing with walkers. It is full of wit and is wonderfully scripted. The songs may not be Andrew Lloyd Webber ballads, but they certainly entertain and add a wonderful counterpoint to the sharp dialogue.
The show has few dance numbers but they are well done. Brooks makes good use of scenery, often incorporating a comedic element to props and backgrounds.
The Merriam’s production is Broadway quality with Broad Street prices and is worth every cent.
Merriam Theater, located at 250 S. Broad St., runs “The Producers” until Feb. 8. Tickets, $45-$85, are still available. For ticket information, call (215) 732-5446. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to see New York’s favorite show in the heart of Philly.
Milli Protheroe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org