Sunday, June 03, 2001

Over-the-top 'Producers' true marvel

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The drama in tonight's Tony Awards (which start at 8 p.m. on Channel 54, then switch at 9 p.m. to Channels 9, 7) won't be about which shows are named best musical and best play.

        The Producers will be honored for getting everything right — and in doing so, pumping up the wattage on the Great White Way. Proof, which already holds this year's Pulitzer Prize, is a well-made play that will prevail because it has as much brilliance and fewer flaws than its competition.

        I'll add my raves to the rest of the world's. The Producers is a wonder to behold. What's not to love? The paratrooper-and-bratwurst-laced Ziegfeld Follies take-off? The goose-stepping pigeons? The never-seen-anything-like-it chorus line of titillated little old ladies in lavender, tapping away with their walkers?

[photo] Nathan Lane (left) and Matthew Broderick in a scene from The Producers
| ZOOM |
        A showstopping tour de force by Nathan Lane that recaps the entire show in five minutes? Gary Beach's interpretation of a singing, dancing Adolf Hitler channeled through Ethel Merman?

        It's not that The Producers, while gleefully tuneful, is inherently a great script and score. It's that it's a strong enough structure to support greatness. There is no aspect of the show that doesn't reach for Olympian heights. No wonder the audience feels like it needs oxygen.

        Expanded from Mel Brooks' 1968 film comedy, The Producers is the shamelessly loony tale of cheeseball producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) who serendipitously takes up with weenie accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick).

        Together they concoct a plot to bilk investors by putting on a show so awful, so offensive, that it won't last past opening night, maybe not past intermission.

        They set off on, if not a yellow brick road, a mauve one heavily laden with Borscht Belt signage.

        They pick up sidekicks including a statuesque blonde with a heavy Norwegian accent and many appetites (Cady Huffman is hubba-hubba), a playwright (Brad Oscar) who longs for the good old days with Adolf, and a no-talent part-time director and full-time queen (Gary Beach) who comes with an entourage strongly reminiscent of the Village People. He also has a common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (the sublime and ridiculous Roger Bart).

        They are all up for Tonys. It's a pity they can't all win. My particular sympathy goes to Mr. Broderick, who makes us believe in Leo both as spineless wimp and as song-and-dance man and manages not to get lost in the wake of Nathan Lane's this-is-what-legends-are-made-of star turn.

        As an ensemble they are bliss. They romp in a demented landscape created by Susan Stroman, the best director/choreographer working on Broadway today who, with an impeccable design team, manages to endlessly surprise.

        You always know where they're going, you never know how they're going to get us all there.

        That element of ongoing surprise would be enough to endear theatergoers to The Producers. Until it's spread out before you in an orgy of brilliance and bad taste, you don't even realize how much you've longed for the real thing, a show that doesn't seem written by committee and aimed at the center of the mainstream.


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