There aren’t too many productions done at the Fox Theater that are surprising, but the Theater of the Stars current offering, "The Producers," manages to take something old and make it new again, and make it very, very funny and campy.
Having been a fan of the original movie of "The Producers" to such an extent that I can say most of the lines along with many of the actors, I was prepared not to like a musical version of the beloved classic. I couldn’t picture any Leo Bloom except Gene Wilder. To me, he WAS Leo Bloom. Period.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Max Bialystock plays a Broadway play producer whose latest flop production has raised $2,000 more than was needed to produce the show. Timid accountant Leo Bloom, when going over the accounts, realizes this and posits "You can make more money with a flop than a hit!" With a flop, the backers [those people who finance the play] don’t have to be paid back.
So Max and Leo join forces to find the worse play ever, a guaranteed flop, and they find it in "Springtime for Hitler" -- written by an unreformed Nazi who keeps pigeons. The Nazi element was much more shocking in 1968 when the movie was released.
The musical version of "The Producers" takes place in 1959. The huge sets are a throwback to extravagance of that era. There is no mere "suggestion" of different scenes with carefully placed abstract art type scrims and minimal set pieces. Nope, here at the Fox, everything is big and glitzy, with the exception of Max’s office.
Stacey Todd Holt’s Leo Bloom is entirely different from the film version. He is nebbishy, but in more of a sweet way than Wilder’s Leo. Holt’s abilities as a singer and dancer make all his scenes fun to watch. I even think I detected a bit of a Southern twang when he said the word "man" in an early scene. [Holt is from Atlanta originally.]
Mike McCormick as Max Bialystock’s character is a bit more problematic. He is more menacing and less delicate than Zero Mostel or even Nathan Lane. In the opening number, he manages to evoke both old-fashioned Dracula [with the scarlet-lined cape] and Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof." There’s even a wandering violinist and a vigorously dancing mob that evoke just about every Jewish wedding scene from every production or film ever made. McCormick, who is probably a diminutive man, spent a lot of time sitting or standing on top of things, which was a bit distracting.
In all fairness, McCormick is certainly a seasoned and skilled actor. I just didn’t LIKE his Max Bialystock. He was too blatant about having sex with his Little Old Ladies [backers of his plays]. He also didn’t seem to genuinely like Leo. He appeared to be more manipulative than kind. Of course, maybe that’s the fault of the script.
In the film, Zero Mostel just hints at how he wrangles money from the LOLS [Little Old Ladies]. I did enjoy the delightful scene in the play where all the LOLs are dancing with their walkers.
The camp was a shock. In the movie there is some camp, but in the play version there is a lot more old-fashioned gay stereotyping. Carmen Ghia’s dramatic hand gestures alone stop the show, not to mention the blinding chrome quality of Roger DeBris’ gown in his first scene. Every person introduced as being associated with the fictional "Springtime for Hitler" is blatantly out there, including the Lighting Designer who is a stereotypically butch lesbian. Finally, before the scene ends, the Village People actually make an appearance. It was funny, yes, but it made me a bit uneasy.
The actors in all the smaller parts were very good. The dancing was extremely sharp, and the showmanship was excellent.
David DeVries as Roger DeBris [boy that’s a mouthful] brought an expertise and a light touch that made the over-the-top camp less blinding. He clearly knows his way around a stage, without chewing the scenery.
I liked the fact that in the play, Ulla -- the stereotypical Swedish bombshell Max hires to be his secretary -- is a more three dimensional character. She and Leo fall in love, although their scene of making out behind the couch was funnier than anything else.
"The Producers" is a lot of fun to watch and enjoyable. Just be prepared that it’s not "politically correct."
"The Producers" runs through Jan. 31 at the Fox Theater, 660 Peachtree Street NE in Atlanta. For info or tickets, call 855-ATL-TIXX or visit http://www.foxtheatre.org/