Thursday, June 13, 2019

Moonlight’s Season Opener “The Producers” To Standing Ovation


It’s been 39 years since Moonlight Stage Productions began mounting musicals under the stars in Vista. This year’s season opener is the Mel Brooks Musical “The Producers” staring Broadway veterans Jamie Torcellini as Max Bialystock and director of this production, Larry Raben, his partner in crime Leo Bloom.

Both have stacked up numerous awards in their acting careers, so no doubt, the masters of producing a loser of a show on Broadway, and winning the approval of opening might audiences, reinforces the power of theatre. Only in American fiction can this happen. But listen up!

Brooks wrote the music and lyrics and he collaborated on the book with Thomas Meehan. The staged musical is set in 1959 and is based on the movie version set earlier that was much darker. Brooks’ shticks in the musical are over the top, vulgar, off the wall, outrageous; shameless and you name it. Sorry folks!
Cast (photo KJ)
That said it never stopped audiences from eating it up. In 2002 the Broadway Musical went on to win 12 Tony Awards. Moonlight’s success in all areas of this production has to do with the extraordinary talent and large ensemble of dancers and singers on stage and the fact that Brooks is inherently an oddly funny guy who seems to get away with well... “Springtime For Hitler”.

Think “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”. He is also an equal opportunity offender; Jews, gays, schtupping ladies old and young alike, you name it.    

“The Producers” is about a down on your luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystok. He has a knack for producing shows that are so bad that he first cons and then fleeces ‘little old ladies’ into financing his failures and then takes off with the profits of the failed shows. Consider his musical version of “Hamlet” which he called  “Funny Boy” that opened and closed in a day.

When his nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Raben) sees how much money he is losing (in the cooked books) on these flops, Bloom comes up with the idea that by producing the worse shows in history they can legitimately lose money and can write off and still come out ahead. Max jumps at the chance.

Larry Raben and Jamie Torcellini (Photo AZ)
The two form a partnership, Bialystok & Bloom Theatrical Producers. Their first order of business is to produce a sure fire loser. After rummaging through a list of plays from hell, they decide on a disaster called “Springtime for Hitler, a Gay Romp” with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden” written by wacko neo-Nazi pigeon aficionado, Franz Libkind (Luke M. Jacobs). Keep in mind, the bigger the flop the bigger the cash pot.

The sidekicks Raben and Torcellini make a good team together as the straight -laced bookkeeper and the out of control, lady chasing do anything for a profit guy. Torcellini has all the right moves and is funny without being too over the top...well?

His cohort in crime, Raben is played with naivety as the overly nervous accountant with blue blanky to sooth his nerves.  He is just what the doctor ordered as Torcellini is a bigger than life presence foil even though Raben stands a head taller. Both deserve credit for endurance in keeping up a pace made for younger men with resilience to waste. Experience on stage out paces youth.

Josh Adamson and Max Cadillac (photo AZ)
Josh Adamson is a hoot as the queenly director; 'reject Busby Berkley cross dressing, incompetent director' Roger DeBris, to direct “Springtime For Hitler”. Brooks’ signature footprints are all over this production as in the name bending, gender bending game. DeBris (the Yiddish word for circumcision) introduces his co well... wife/assistant Carmen Ghia, a one of a kind German car (played by Max Cadillac if you will. Adamson’s entire entourage and home setting (Robert Wagner, based on the original) is another play by itself.

Luke Harvey Jacobs (photo KJ)
Luke H. Jacobs is a hoot as the demented Neo-Nazi Franz, the pigeon loving, Hitler loving author of “Springtime For Hitler”. The verrry tall Katie Barna is Ulla is the Swedish love/sex interest of both men, neither of who can keep their eyes off her, possibly their hands as well given the chance. She’s an great dancer,  and at her tallest is at least a head over Raben. She’s also a convincing leading lady in the musical within the play.  

Always making headlines in this weird success story of a show the dance numbers with original choreography and direction by Susan Stroman and recreated for this show by Karl Warden give some of the funniest scenes in both acts.
Cast of The Producers (photo KJ)
Tap dancing storm troopers, choruses of dancers dressed as panzer tanks, show- girls a la Las Vegas dressed as a schnitzels, beer steins and every other German symbol swaggering down the stairs and parading in front of the audience, “Little Old Lady Land” a dance number using walkers in “Along Came Bialy”.

Musical director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda creates his usual magic with his large orchestra. There were some sound issues (Jim Zadai) that were corrected early on. Jennifer Edwards lighting worked to the benefit of the company and costumes coordinators Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd based on the original costume designs of William Ivy Long all, especially the show- girl number, are a hoot and period correct.

Jamie Torcellini, Katie Barna abd Larry Raben (photo KJ)
In my heart of hearts, I have ambivalences about Brooks and his humor. 
"The Producers" always brings out those feelings in me. On one hand the show is a slick wild ride bringing out laughs in the places you will find most offensive, on the other hand I cringe at any of the humor about Hitler.

It is not the best show of the season to bring the kiddies to.
"Matilda", coming up next is a sure bet for them.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 29th
Organization: Moonlight Stage productions
Phone: 760-724-2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1250 Vale terrace Drive, Vista
Ticket Prices: From $17.00-$57
Web: moonlightstage.com
Venue: Kathy Brombacher Stage
Photo: Ken Jacques and Adriana Zuniga

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