Faded and failed Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, comes up with a crookedly inspired idea when mousey accountant, Leo Bloom, innocently states that, under the right circumstances, a person could make more money with a Broadway flop than a hit. With Bloom’s help, Bialystock plots to produce the biggest Broadway bomb in history and escape to Rio with the cash. This is The Producers written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and closes the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Brooks and Meehan do an excellent job translating Brooks’ classic movie to the stage. Overall, it is a tight, well told story, though there were a couple of scenes that felt like they were added solely to pad the show. Brooks proves himself to be an especially effective songwriter with a score riddled with memorable, rib tickling numbers. The script is helped by a very effective cast who brought their A game to a nearly sold out opening night house.
Jeff Horger triumphs with a superior piece of direction. The staging of the show is beyond reproach. He has led his actors to a series of varied and vibrant performances. The bits of business are spot on and the scene changes are smooth as satin.
Steve Krambeck caps an impressive season with a sterling performance as Leo Bloom that may stake him a claim to the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire award. It was a real treat to watch Krambeck play against type as the shy and repressed accountant who dreams to be a Broadway producer. He stuns with his visceral uncomfortableness around women and his obsessive cuddling of his baby blanket when he gets overstressed. Krambeck constructs a wonderful arc for Bloom as he grows in confidence during the course of the play and transforms from a mouse to a man.
Krambeck has an incredibly mellow tenor singing voice that I could sit and listen to all day. This instrument was used to the fullest in numbers such as We Can Do It, I Wanna Be a Producer, and the sweet That Face and ‘Til Him. Krambeck also proved himself a surprisingly agile and graceful hoofer with his dance numbers.
Jim McKain’s performance as Max Bialystock is pitch perfect. He’s so oily, so greedy, so much of a scoundrel. Yet, deep down, he has a core of decency that peeks out from time to time and only grows stronger as Bloom’s niceness rubs off on him. McKain has a very mighty tenor voice which soars in The King of Broadway, Where Did We Go Right?, and especially in Betrayed which is not only musically pleasing, but a physical acting tour de force.
Mike Palmreuter’s turn as Franz Liebkind is howlingly funny. As the off kilter, bird loving, Nazi loyalist, Palmreuter nearly rips off this show. His character is the author of Springtime for Hitler, the play within the play that Liebkind wrote to clear Hitler’s reputation. Palmreuter’s bass voice beautifully booms in tunes like Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop and Have You Ever Heard the German Band? His powerful frame disguises the fact that he is a nimble dancer whose animated moves provided some of the biggest laugh out loud moments of the night.
Lindsey Ussery is a sweet delight as Ulla, the Swedish woman trying to break into entertainment. Ms Ussery has a good sense of movement maximized in her enticing audition for Bloom and Bialystock in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It. She has a pleasant alto voice which I rather enjoyed in This Face and her Swedish accent held up quite well. Ms Ussery did sound a bit breathy at some points, so she’ll need to remember to keep up the breath support.
Ryan Pivonka is a scream as Roger DeBris. DeBris is an overwrought queen who thinks shows should always remember to Keep it Gay. He’s a lousy director who proves to be an equally inept actor when he is compelled to take over the role of Hitler and gives a 5 star horrific performance that had the audience guffawing at the top of their lungs in Springtime for Hitler. Pivonka also rocks an evening gown surprisingly well.
The show’s ensemble cast was a hit with their sly little acting moments and extremely slick dancing. Particular notice goes out to Don Harris who excels in several character roles, especially with his performance as Bloom’s bullying boss, Mr. Marks. Zach Kloppenborg brings it as Carmen Guia, DeBris’ histrionic “common-law assistant”. And I would also like to tip my hat to the puppeteer of Liebkind’s birds who gave a dandy performance of their own.
Jim Boggess and his orchestra couldn’t hit a wrong note if they tried. Melanie Walters deserves an award for her choreography. This was the best choreography I have seen in my 20 years in the business and you’re going to be amazed at what Ms Walters can do with a slew of walkers in Along Came Bialy. Jim Othuse does some of his best work yet in the many pieces of scenery built from this show from the office of Bloom and Bialystock to the outside of the theatre to the multiple bits of scenery needed for the massive Springtime for Hitler scene. Amanda Fehlner should be proud of her costuming especially in the musical within a musical as the stormtrooper and chorus girl outfits were some of the most creative I’ve seen.
The Producers is what good comedy is all about. It doesn’t try to share a message and it doesn’t have a lot of depth. It’s just a lot of fun and will take you out of yourself for a while. The work of the entire cast and crew, especially that of Krambeck and McKain, will blow you away and I do believe I hear the sweet sound of cash registers ringing for the Playhouse, so be sure to buy a ticket today.
The Producers runs at the Playhouse through June 26. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesdays and $40 for adults and $25 for students Thurs-Sun. For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit their website at www.omahaplayhouse.com. Parental discretion is advised for the show due to a little strong language and some suggestive moments. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.