Monday, March 20, 2017

Broadway By The Bay: The Producers

Left to right: Robert Lopez, Jocelyn Pickett, Marcus Klinger. Photo courtesy Mark & Tracy Photography.

In 2006, Hollywood comedy master Mel Brooks brought his legendary film The Producers to Broadway. The musical received rave reviews and broke the record for most Tony Awards won by a single show. Now playing at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, directed by Jason Jeffrey, Broadway By The Bay’s The Producers combines Brooks’ lyrics and characters with an outstanding cast and meticulous comedic touches. The result might be the funniest show to appear on the West Coast in years.

Jeffrey has a deep understanding of what made the original run such a smash hit – a constant barrage of jokes, ranging from subtle wordplay to acrobatic slapstick to prop comedy. The show is incredibly over-the-top, which is where it needs to be to truly shine; in fact, there is rarely a serious moment – but the comedy varies enough that it doesn’t become monotonous.

Marcus Klinger (who previously played the role at Diablo Theater Company) delivers a tour-de-force performance as Max Bialystock, a washed-up producer who hatches a scheme to oversell Springtime for Hitler and run away to Rio with the profits. Klinger knows that he’s playing a walking clichĂ© and wholeheartedly embraces it, dominating scenes with his impressively loud voice and scenery-chewing performance. Klinger’s best moment is the Act 2 song “Betrayed,” where he impersonates all of the other characters in a summary of the story up to that point.

Serving as Max’s foil is Leo Bloom (Robert Lopez), a shy, neurotic accountant with dreams of becoming a big Broadway producer. Lopez adeptly switches between the only sane man in the scene and a hysterical, insecure man-child. Going pound-for-pound with his scene partner, Lopez holds his own comedy-wise, despite Klinger’s more numerous funny moments in the script. Also notable is Lopez’ clear, beautiful voice, which makes songs like “I Wanna Be A Producer” not only hilarious, but also delightful.

However, The Producers isn’t just a musical about two people, and the supporting cast is as funny as the stars. David Schiller’s Nazi runaway Franz Liebkind is hilariously uptight – slapstick is twice as good coming from a character screaming about order and beauty. Jocelyn Pickett plays ingĂ©nue Ulla, combining straight-up cabaret performance with Marx Brothers level wordplay. Last but not least, national tour veteran Eric Johnson as Roger De Bris – along with his entire entourage – steals the show with the most elaborate song in the production, “Keep It Gay.”

Accolades also go to the members of the technical team, who recall the golden age of midcentury Broadway while relentlessly mocking it at the same time. Leandra Watson’s costumes are not only technically adept, they’re funny – beyond the obvious prop comedy lies subtle touches like trimming all of Roger De Bris’ outfits with sequins. (Well, at least as subtle as anything trimmed with sequins can be.) Kelly James Tighe’s sets make extensive use of billboard lights and other parts of Broadway kitsch, which both solidify the show’s themes and provide a gorgeous visual effect. Most interesting are the dozens of floating screen fragments, which, combined with Aaron Spivey’s projections, deliver the public’s judgment upon Max and Leo.

With one of the funniest scores ever written, a wonderful cast, and Jasen Jeffrey’s deft hand, The Producers at Broadway By The Bay is a true masterpiece of comedy. If you love stage comedy, or even if you only dabble in it occasionally, get in line at the box office immediately – you won’t want to miss this production.

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