Leo (Patrick Walters, left) and Max (Todd Covert) do their best to put on a bad Broadway show in The Producers (photo by Jerri Shafer)
Mel Brooks’s The Producers is built on such a clever concept, it’s no wonder it’s found success both in Hollywood and on Broadway. It was in a 1968 movie that Brooks first told the story of Max Bialystock, a once-great Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, an accountant who dreams of making his mark on the Great White Way. Together, they realize they can cook the books in a way that allows them to make a fortune by putting on a show so bad that it opens and closes in one night. When they come across a diehard Nazi who’s written a loving tribute to Der Fuhrer called Springtime for Hitler, they think they’ve found the world’s worst play. Then, to cement their chances of producing a flop, they hire Broadway’s worst director to stage it. The results are delightfully unpredictable. The Producers has a winning concept, but it’s not foolproof. Though the stage version has catchy tunes, much of its humor relies on broad stereotypes that can get old fast because—well, let’s face it, they start out old. In order to work, the musical needs a director and cast who can flesh out the over-the-top characters while carrying off the songs, dance steps and rapid-fire gags. Gallery Players’ production, directed by Mark Mann, pulls it off beautifully in just about every respect. One of the few disappointments is the developing friendship between Max and Leo, which never quite comes across. Todd Covert properly plays Max as an expansive and amoral showman, but Patrick Walters is too busy throwing himself into Leo’s neurosis-based health issues to fully define the character. As a result, the tale’s central relationship seems flat. Helping to make up for the deficiency, Brooke Walters expertly turns Swedish bombshell Ulla, the pair’s newly hired actress/secretary, into an entertaining combination of sweetness and naïve sexuality. I almost used the term “brilliant” to describe the above performance, but that adjective should be reserved for Doug Joseph’s portrayal of hack theater director Roger De Bris. Roger is flamboyantly gay, but Joseph grounds the character so thoroughly that he never comes off as a mere stereotype. An even-more-flamboyant Stewart Bender plays Roger’s mincing assistant, Carmen Ghia, but not always. In an unusual casting move, Joseph and Bender will switch roles in every other performance. The final major character, Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, is played by Ralph Scott as a droll caricature of Teutonic menace. Though the above performers dominate the plot, the production’s design team is equally important to its success. The attention to detail is unbelievable, from Franz’s cooing “pigeons” to the overhead shot of a chorus line dancing in the shape of a swastika. Debbie Hamrick’s costumes and Jonathan Bagg’s set design capture the glitzy ambiance of the tale’s setting, late-1950s Broadway. Behind the main players, the large supporting cast exudes personality while singing and performing Nicolette Montana’s lively choreography. Music director Stephanie Stephens’s band provides the rousing, if occasionally pitchy, accompaniment. Truthfully, a few of the musical numbers may test your patience. But when the show is at its best—as it is when Springtime for Hitler finally takes the stage—it will make you laugh both hard and often. Gallery Players will present The Producers through March 16 at the Jewish Community Center, 1125 College Ave. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday (no performance March 15), 2:30 p.m. Sunday, plus 7:30 p.m. March 16. Running time: 3 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $25 ($20 for JCC members), $23 for seniors ($18 JCC members), $15 for students and children. 614-231-2731 or www.jccgalleryplayers.org.