By Mae Hunt
Based on the 1967 Mel Brooks film of the same name, “The Producers” was first adapted into a Broadway musical in 2001. It tells the story of Max Bialystock (Steve Cairns), a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who teams up with geeky accountant Leo Bloom (Ryan Phillips) to scam investors out of their money by producing a show that’s guaranteed to flop. However, when “Springtime for Hitler,” an over-the-top musical tribute to the Nazi leader, becomes a surprise success, Bialystock and Bloom must deal with the consequences.
One of the many lessons audiences can take from “The Producers” is that sincerity can easily be mistaken for satire – a deliberately offensive show turns out to be a big hit when the audience interprets it as an over-the-top mockery. This can also work the other way around. If a satire is not outrageous enough, audiences could take offense or leave with the wrong message.
The Little Theatre’s production does not hold back on the ridiculous. Everything — from the orchestra’s beats to lighting cues to cheeky details in the set design — is perfectly timed to accentuate the comedy of the show. And it works. “The Producers” is hilarious.
In the official director’s notes for the show, Director Kristina Friedgen wrote that she hoped the show would inspire audiences “to laugh at ourselves more and allow others to laugh with us while we do that.”
Friedgen’s direction emphasizes this, as every character is successfully the butt of one joke or another, from the flamboyant Roger DeBris (Brian Lyons-Burke) to the flirtatious Ulla (Sirena Dib). No one gets out unscathed, and so nothing is taken too seriously.
Both Cairns and Philips are excellent leads. Cairns is believable as the slimy, self-pitying Bialystock, and his performance of “Betrayed” toward the end of the show makes him more than deserving of a standing ovation. Philips is a skilled character actor whose complete commitment to Bloom’s snivelling persona brings the show’s hilarity to new heights. The two actors’ chemistry is a joy to watch, as is their dedication to the more physically demanding parts of their blocking.
While Bialystock and Bloom get the majority of the speaking lines, the ensemble cast of “The Producers” does everything but fade into the background. Each actor brings energy and humor to the multiple parts they play. A special nod should also be given to the props and costume department, as the ensemble seems to transform with every scene. The number of wigs used in the show isn’t published in the program, but I wish it was. My guess is somewhere in the dozens.
Skillful vocal performances and choreography make the show’s big musical numbers impressive as well as funny. “The King of Broadway,” “Along Came Bialy” and, of course, “Springtime for Hitler” were the obvious standouts, but every number is enjoyable in its own way. The orchestra, seated high above the stage, is lively and dynamic.
“The Producers” may be a satire, but there is clearly a lot of heart behind this particular production. While the show is still running, it’s worth grabbing a ticket. Leave the kids at home and get ready to laugh.
If you go
Run dates: Through Aug. 17
Where: Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria 22314
For tickets and information: 703-683-5778 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.
Mae Hunt is an arts and entertainment freelancer and can be reached at [email protected]