“The Producers” is resplendent in every way from the calibrated hijinks of its “Broadway” leads and the glorious choreography, to the sparkling costumed-chorus and baby-blue ruffled bloomers worn by its Swedish bombshell. Quite frankly, “The Producers” may be the Best Musical this critic has seen all season. It’s that exceptional!
BY SANDY STAGGS
Comedy is indeed a weapon.
That profound axiom from the master of ribald humor Mel Brooks is how Asheville Community Theatre Executive Director Susan Harper prefaced opening night of “The Producers” in light of the white supremist-driven tragedy just days prior in Charlottesville, VA.
But if anyone can sell a musical comedy entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” it’s ACT. And it doesn’t hurt to sell it in a sparkling new theatre.
After a six-month renovation, ACT unveiled its oak-veneer seating with blue upholstery on new carpet with aisles framed in strip-lighting, and a state-of-the-art lighting infrastructure.
Under the charming and adventurous direction of Jerry Crouch in his 30th year at ACT, “The Producers” simultaneously celebrates and excoriates the business of Broadway.
Still the top Tony Award holder of all time – “Hamilton” holds the nomination record – Brook’s 2001 musical adapted with Thomas Meehan from the 1967 film, features lyrics and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman.
Down-and-out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (a boisterous and engaging Zacary Landolt), who has to seduce dozens of elderly women for the investments check, and timid accountant Leo Bloom (in a fete of mousy perfection), concoct a fraudulent scheme to over-sell shares of a new musical called “Springtime for Hitler.”
Convinced that the offensive title alone in a city full of Jews will guarantee a one-night opening and closing, they hire the lousiest creative talent in New York to stage it.
And they have some assistance by their sexy new Swedish blonde “secretary-slash-receptionist” Ulla (aka Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson) played with utter surrender and style by Alex Likens. Her signature number is “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.” And luckily for us, Ms. Likens has it and flaunts it beautifully.
First, there’s the flagrant flaming gay director Roger De Bris (the outlandish and marvelous Corey Link) and his more-flamboyant boyfriend Carmen Ghia (Cord Scott in a scene-stealing over-the-top and unforgettable performance). This homo duo recruits a Village People coterie of creative talent (set designer, costumer, etc.) and burly lesbian as lighting designer.
And as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, Jeff Stone in a sublime German accent is a brilliant force of nature. Not only is he backed by four dancing carrier pigeons in his pining for “Old Bavaria”, but his “Have You Ever Heard the German Band?” is epic both vocally and in his agile movement.
There are so many standouts in the show that deserve praise and here are only a few: Nathan Meyer in a dynamic song-and-dance solo as a Nazi Storm Trooper, and Missy Stone, Allison Stinson and Linda Pannullo who lead a horde of senior horny women on walkers in the most creative choreography (based on Susan Stroman’s Broadway steps) I have seen all year. Although, the yoga moves in North Carolina Stage Company’s “Curvy Widow” ranks very high.
And as the leads, Landolt and Harper are no less than hyper-senational. Harper is a beacon of ingenuity and vocal splendor in the showstopper “I Wanna Be A Producer” and Landolt shows nuance and an exhaustive command of Brooks’ naughty and Borscht Belt humor throughout from “The King of Broadway” to “Where Did We Go Right?”
Crouch is clearly in top form helming this production, instilling non-stop and idyllic pacing and momentum, and conjuring stellar performances from his cast.
Music Director Lynda Ferrell Shuler is responsible for the top-notch vocal work and the outstanding live reed and brass band and Choreographer Shari Azar with tap guru Tina Pisano-Foor cement this creative team with one dazzling dance sequence after another.
Costume designer Carina Lopez has created over 100 ensembles for this extravagant show with everything from formal gowns to lederhosen and sequin and glitter Swastika arm bands.
The complex scenic design by Jill Summers is expansive and ever so sophisticated. Her divine Shubert Theatre and Roger’s home crescendo with the grandest if staircases and am still trying to deconstruct the Act Two transformation of Max and Leo’s office.
“The Producers” features hair and make-up by Vanessa Sogan, lighting design by Rob Bowen, properties by Jean Fullbright, scenic painting by Ben Harrison and sound by Ron Whittemore. Anne Garren is Stage Manager and Jacob Walas is dance captain.
“The Producers” continues Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Sept. 10 at Asheville Community Theatre, 35 East Walnut St. in Asheville. Call the Box Office at (828) 254-1320 or visit http://www.ashevilletheatre.org/