Monday, November 12, 2012
North Shore Theater of Wilmette
Community Recreation Center, Wilmette
Thru December 2
A few weeks ago, I published a list of My 100 Favorite Stage Musicals of All-Time. Topping the list is Mel Brooks’ The Producers. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is the musical I have seen performed most often, now 12 times in all.
Beyond loving the show from the first time I saw it—early in its pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago in February 2001—because its inception corresponded chronologically with my evolving passion for live theater, it became a show I followed as it moved throughout its life cycle to date. Though significant to no one but me, I considered myself a Producersologist.
After the initial Chicago run—with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and the rest of the original Broadway cast—I saw The Producers on Broadway in June 2001, right before it won a boatload of Tony Awards. I saw the show early on its first national tour (in Cleveland), caught it in Los Angeles—with Jason Alexander and Martin Short, as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively—and London, with Lane and Lee Evans. I saw two different Equity tours in Chicago, a 2005 Broadway cast (with Richard Kind and Roger Bart in the leads) and a non-Equity tour in Aurora. As the show became licensed for local productions, I saw productions at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire and Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN. (I wrote about this in a bit more detail here.)
I saw The Producers on-stage 11 times between 2001 and 2008, but I had not seen it since then until Sunday, when I caught a community theater production by the North Shore Theater of Wilmette. So barring any possible high school or college renditions, which may not be likely given the ribald material, I have now seen The Producers at virtually all levels of the theatrical life-cycle: pre-Broadway, Broadway, National Tour, London, Non-Equity Tour, Regional and Community.
And while I won’t specifically review the Wilmette production—I tend not critically pontificate upon volunteer performers—it was strong enough to validate that The Producers holds up across the spectrum, even without star names, professional performers or, in this case, live music.
While most community theater shows do have live bands or small orchestras, the music at the Wilmette Community Recreation Center auditorium was obviously canned, but I won’t hold that against an otherwise impressive local production. The singing was done live and was rather solid.
Based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 movie about a down and out Broadway producer—Max Bialystock—who in tandem with Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers it’s possible to make more money with a flop than a hit, sets out to create a show sure to instantly close (and finds a work called Springtime for Hitler), the musical can’t be an easy one to stage on a small budget.
There are many high-profile characters—Max, Leo, writer Franz Liebkind, director Roger DeBris, his assistant Carmen Ghia and sexpot secretary/starlet Ulla—who almost all get individual production numbers demanding a variety of locales and costumes.
So I was tremendously impressed at how for a run of just 9 performances (and the one I attended was far from packed), the North Shore Theater of Wilmette managed to create suitable replications of all the Broadway sets and costumes. Obviously, there was substantial scaling back, but I wouldn’t be hesitant to recommend this version to anyone who has never seen The Producers—or to those who have.
While, as with almost all community theater, the was some variance in the singing and acting ability of cast members, and a few places where the production values didn’t shine as brightly as others, I found Frank Roberts to be terrific as Max (he’d be fine in a touring version playing downtown theaters) and Brent Walker was nearly as good as Leo. A few other performances were notably good, including Rick Schram as Franz and Sean Blitzstein as Roger DeBris.
The Producers is a show that keeps you laughing or smiling throughout, and while I’m obsessive enough to know that a few jokes were omitted or altered, the cast and crew in Wilmette earned the applause they received after nearly 3 hours on stage.
And while I certainly wouldn't mind if I again get the chance to see Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their original roles—though I could just watch the movie version of the musical—if I stumble across a community production as good as this one every few years, I’m confident The Producers will keep producing a whole lot of enjoyment.
I consider it one of the very best pieces of entertainment created in my lifetime and—even at a relatively universal stratum—worthy of forever being produced anew.