"THE PRODUCERS," through Feb. 7, 801-355-2787, running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
When “The Producers” first stormed Broadway in 2001, it was the must-have ticket in town. Sweeping the Tony Awards with an unprecedented 12 wins (a record it still holds), “The Producers” kept people on the edges of their seats with an "I-shouldn’t-be-laughing-at-this" nervousness.
The musical adaptation, running through Feb. 7 at Capitol Theatre, is based on the Mel Brooks 1968 film of the same name. Two would-be Broadway producers, the unlikely duo of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, devise a plot to produce a Broadway flop, see it close after opening night, bilking investors out of their cash and running off to Rio. What could happen?
This is where the uneasiness comes in. In true Brooks fashion, he skewers just about everybody from little old ladies to homosexuals, performers to Hitler. No one is safe. Even 13 years later, outlandish show scenes with swastikas and Nazis can make one squirm a bit.
But as Brooks has said in interviews over the years, “The only weapon I’ve got is comedy. If I can make this guy look ludicrous, if I can make you laugh at him, then it’s a victory of sorts. You can’t get on a soapbox with these orators because they’re very good at convincing the masses that they’re right. But if you can make them look ridiculous, you take their power away.”
There is much that works in the current national tour. The costumes are top-notch and quite reminiscent of the originals, as is the set. There are a few set pieces, such as the desk in Max’s office, that are quite wobbly, leaving actors, directed to stand on them, visibly nervous.
The cast is pretty solid across the board. David Johnson is a wonderfully blustery Max, and Richard Lafleur handles the difficult-to-play Leo well. (It’s just hard to make a grown man who needs a "blanky" believable, but Lafleur does a nice job). They are a likable duo and you’ll find yourself rooting for them.
The supporting performances are also great — John B. Boss as director Roger De Bris, J. Ryan Carroll as Carmen Ghia and Jessica Ernest’s Ulla. Thomas Slater is fantastic as Franz Liebkind — stealing any scene he is in. And the gentleman, listed in the playbill as "lead tenor stormtrooper" has a beautiful soaring tenor voice and a nice stage presence.
At times the group dance numbers don’t have the finesse one is used to seeing in a professional production — almost as though some of the ensemble aren’t "dancers" per se. Though there is much to be said for reworking spacing and such to fit into the various spaces touring companies are faced with.
If you’ve never seen “The Producers” or it’s been a few years, this national tour is a solid production of this Broadway hit. Just remember it’s brash and bawdy, irreverent, yes, and a whole lot of fun.
Content advisory: Language and swearing, racial slurs, comic caricatures, sexual innuendo, suggestive situations, smoking and drinking; if this production of "The Producers" were a film, it would likely be rated PG-13.
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."