BY SANDY STAGGS
A hotshot producer named Max mounts a Broadway musical and it becomes a resounding hit.
Sound familiar? Yes, life does imitate art at Greenville Theatre as the company’s new Producing Artistic Director Max Quinlan scorches the stage with his Upstate directorial debut, The Producers.
By far the largest, glitziest and most ambitious indoor production to emerge from our new Covid-19 reality, Mel Brooks’ The Producers (the most Tony-winning musical of all time) is a super-polished, pristine and delightful affair brimming with A-List performances and production values only a generously-funded behemoth like this Greenville jewel can achieve.
As the bountiful Allen and Suzanne McCalla legacy comes to a close (Suzanne created the scenic design), the irony of the plot of this show about two producers – Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom played by Neel Patrick Edwards and Carter Allen – who set out to mount the worst musical ever in a plot to cheat investors, is not lost on this reviewer. The Producers was, of course originally set for the final show of the theatre’s 2020 season but was postponed due to…well, you know why.
And mirroring the show’s ending, both Quinlan’s The Producers and Bialystock and Bloom’s Springtime for Hitler are immense successes. Quinlan has made his presence and sensibility known in this already-bawdy romp (it’s Mel Brooks, naysayers!) and upped the ante in a few places in unanticipated ways that definitely nudge the envelope further than I have seen in some 20 or so previous productions.
The grand scenic backdrops; the Shubert Theatre marquee set; the dual sets for the office; the impeccable costumes by Thomas Brooks; the grand-scale lighting effects by Cory Granner; the music direction by the dazzling, fluid The grand scenic backdrops; the dual sets for the office; the impeccable costumes by Thomas Brooks; the grand-scale lighting effects by Cory Granner; the vocal direction of Victoria Bess Adams; the dazzling, eye-popping choreography for the many musical numbers by Kimberlee Ferreira with Michael McCrary (yes, that walker sequence originated by Susan Stroman); the sheer scale and mechanism of it all – thank you Greenville Theatre for bringing it all back!
I am breaking my usual review formula and first recognizing this kickin’ ensemble who would be playing leading roles at any other theatre and play multiple roles here. And some are members of GT’s resident acting troupe: Andrew Anderson, Grayson Anthony, Jasmyne Carter, Loren Clark, Cody Cobb, Rick Connor, Joel Dupont, Adell Ehrhorn, Abby Kohake, Latreshia Lilly, Jamie Riedy, Allysa Sutton, Andrew Szykula, Carley Tomlinson and Roxanne Vogel.
For those readers who were at the theatre’s 2021 season announcement soiree in Jan/Feb 2020 before the pandemic and caught Neel Patrick Edward’s performance (the best of the evening), you had an inkling of what to expect from this young performer. I actually had my doubts about Edwards (not his skills of course) pulling off the maturity required for this role which is at least twice his age, but he sold me by his very first number, “The King of Broadway.”
GT mainstay chameleon Carter Allen is perfect in the role of Bloom – neurotic and genuine. And the chemistry with Edwards is innate and seamless in duets like “We Can Do It.”
Jamie Ann Walters shows her finest work to date at Greenville Theatre as the Scandinavian beauty Ulla, who tidies up the office by painting it solid white, and is more than comfortable with her demeanor and appearance in “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.” A brilliant soprano, Walters is the most exquisite asset in The Producers.
But it’s a handful of supporting actors who levy the more daring elements. Evan Harris (up next in The Hound of the Baskervilles) is in top-form as the wacky Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind and Adolf Hitler and in “Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band?” Oh, and the pigeons are a hoot!! Best prop of the season, and we have just begun.
Jon Kilpatrick – in his finest musical performance since Edna in Hairspray – steals the show handily as the worst director in New York – the eccentric drag queen Roger Debris. Commanding, poised and airy, Kilpatrick and his merry band of theatre creatives keep it very gay in the ecstatic “Keep It Gay” and again when he steps in as Adolf Hitler in “Springtime for Hitler.” BRAVO!!!!
And, hats off to an unrecognizable Mitch Smith (winner of Best Actor as Hank Williams in Lost Highway) as Roger’s companion Carmen Ghia. Swishing and accommodating, Mitchell sashays away with this role.
And though not credited in the online playbill, you can’t miss associate choreographer Michael McCrary in several numbers and as the choreographer for Springtime for Hitler in a pink leotard and tights. I am still chuckling at that sight!
And Bravo to Max and his team at Greenville Theatre for requiring masks! My companion and I felt very protected and comfortable in the theatre.
The Producers continues weekends through September 26 with additional shows on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 444 College Street in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 233-6238 or visit greenvilletheatre.org.
And download the digital playbill at greenvilletheatre.org/playbill.