I remember the buzz on the road for “The Producers” by Mel Brooks when it first came out back in 2001.
Mel Brooks’ movies were universally seen as the funniest out there. Based on his 1967 directorial debut, the Broadway musical was highly anticipated. The reviews were incredible.
My cousins had seen it in tryouts in Chicago, and could not have loved it more. I did not see it at the beginning of the run, but did go out and buy the cast recording. Mistake. I over-familiarized myself with the material. Having memorized the CD and knowing the movie, there were no surprises from the script and music. On Broadway, I saw as the leads Brad Oscar as Max and Roger Bart as Leo. They were fine, but frankly I was underwhelmed.
So, I came to Music Mountain Theater thinking I would not like this show that much. Well, surprise! It is the best show that I have seen since the theater opened. You should run out to buy a ticket. Not walk, run. The performances are, across the board, marvelous.
The show synopsis is easily stated: Max Bialystock is the worst producer in New York City. He yearns for a hit, but it always escapes him. His accounting firm sends Leo Bloom to go over the books, and Leo discovers that more money can be made with a flop than a hit, if you fraudulently have too many investors. Max is more than intrigued. He wants to find the worst show, get the worst director and hire the most awful cast, so he can make a lot of cash. It originally was a movie made in 1967 with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and it won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
It is the brilliant book that propels this musical. The songs are lighthearted fun and allow a great cast and choreographer to playfully go over the top. Perfectly constructed, this show, when done right as it has by Music Mountain, snowballs to its inevitable conclusion with an avalanche of laughs. An amazing feat. Kudos to director, choreographer and cast.
Eddie Honan is delightful as Max Bialystock. I enjoyed him in “Seussical” as General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, but was unprepared for this performance. His Max is spot on. He both physically and spiritually inhabits the slippery con man. A fearless performance.
His other half in this boy-meets-boy story — or should I say grifter meets naif — is Patrick Mertz as Leo Bloom. Looking like a mixture of Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg, he has given the best Leo Bloom you are likely to see. Physical comedy is not easy. It takes craftsmanship and a certain athleticism that we are all familiar with when thinking of Jim Carrey, Jerry Lewis or Lucille Ball. I enjoyed his performance more than Matthew Broderick’s. And I am not blowing smoke — I mean it. I would come to see this show just to see him. But luckily, there is much more.
The Swedish bombshell actress that is hired as their Girl Monday through Friday has the unforgettable name of Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson. She was hired at the auditions for “Springtime for Hitler,” the new show that they are hoping is a failure. Played with wide-eyed sweetness by Katie Rochon, Ulla is beautiful with the right mix of innocence and naughtiness. Rochon has been working as a professional actress and vocalist for nearly a decade out of New York City. She has a BA from Rowan University in Musical Theater and a Masters in Theater Education from Rowan University. She is marvelous.
Michael Moeller must have been born on a stage, as that is how comfortable he seems when performing. An audience favorite, he has a special rapport with the crowd that becomes apparent when he seamlessly goes from onstage interaction with his fellow actors to playfully addressing the audience directly, when called for. When given the opportunity, he can chew up the scenery. That opportunity is there in spades with his role as Roger De Bris, the worst director that Max and Leo could find to direct their flop.
Erik Snyder also goes for the brass ring in his performance as Franz Liebkind, the former Nazi who has penned the Hitler musical that Max and Leo have decided to produce. It takes some acting to be a cute yet macho Nazi, but he is able to walk that line. I still don’t know how. It is beyond the obvious sensitivity displayed in his raising of pigeons and his devotion to “Adolph Elizabeth Hitler.” His rendition of “Haben sie gehort das Deutsche Band” is one of many of the evening’s delights.
Alex Klein as Carmen Ghia, the common-law assistant to Roger De Bris, also got the memo to go big or go home. Flamboyant and over-dramatic, Klein makes Ghia proud.
The show has great production numbers, starting from “Opening Night” as the curtain rises. “The King of Broadway” is a tour de force by Honan as Max. As is “I Wanna Be a Producer” with Mertz as Leo. When they are together, the energy and perfection of their performances are in full view as evidenced in “We Can Do It.” Also, great fun is “Keep It Gay,” “You Never Say Good Luck on Opening Night” and “Where Did We Go Right.” “Till Him” was, of course, touching and the show-stopping “Springtime for Hitler” and “Heil Myself” was gut-busting funny.
Louis Palena was able to helm a perfect production. Max and Leo would never invest in this successful production. It is way, way to good for them. Jordan Brennan’s costumes look like they cost a million bucks. To have costumes that imaginative, that well made, and fit his actors so well is a tribute to this young man’s talent and hard work.
So I stood. I do not stand often at curtain. I am not going to say if you go, I am going to say when you go, you will find yourself standing, too.
Music Mountain Theatre is giving local professional actors the great opportunity to hone their craft, and they are providing a safe place and expert guidance in that journey. We owe a lot to Music Mountain for that. They are providing a valuable service to the Hunterdon County and Bucks County areas that have been blessed with talent and now have a home for it.
Again, go to “The Producers” — Music Mountain’s best yet.
The show runs through May 20, and tickets can be purchased online.