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Review: 'Producers' really is fabulously funny

You know that old saying. "It's not boasting if it's true."

Well, all the hype about "The Producers" isn't PR hype. It's true. The show really is that fabulous.

I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard at a show — maybe when Dame Edna came to Fort Myers and insulted us all from the stage.

I certainly can't remember when I've laughed so much at a musical.

No wonder "The Producers" broke records for winning Tony Awards (a dozen!) and Drama Desk Awards (11).

No wonder its run at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall is close to sold out, with only minimal advertising.

And no wonder the venue is bringing it back next season for another week.

Even without the Broadway leads of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, this show is a rousing success.

Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with music and lyrics by Brooks, the stage show is a musical version of Brooks' 1968 movie of the same name. (It was his first feature film, and he received an Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.)


"The Producers"

When: 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers

Cost: $90, $75, $65 and $55

Information: (239) 481-4849

The plot is the same: An unscrupulous producer —some may say that's redundant — (Bob Amaral as Max Bialystock) teams up with Leo Bloom (Andy Taylor), a milquetoast accountant, when he realizes that he can make more money with a flop than a Broadway success, if he raises more money than necessary to open the show.

So they pick the worst script possible, a musical called "Springtime for Hitler." They proceed to hire the worst actors and the worst director (Stuart Marland as Roger De Bris).

Brooks has always had a flare for the absurd, and "The Producers" certainly is proof of that.

He takes stereotypes to the extreme, and then, for good measure, gives them an extra shove and pushes them over the edge.

A gay director? (Nothing unusual there.)

But Brooks makes his gay director a cross-dressing gay director in a red wig and a silvery glittery gown that makes him look like the Chrysler Building. And in addition to his partner/assistant, Roger has other assistants — two stereotypically gay men and a lesbian.

And by the end of the scene, Brooks seems to have followed his own advice in the song "Keep It Gay" and has filled Roger's Upper East Side N.Y. apartment with what looks like the cast of the Village People — as if every gay male has a leatherman, policeman, sailor and Indian chief living in his apartment.

"The Producers" not only sends up gays, but Swedes, elderly women and geriatric sex, theatrical producers, actors, straight men and their hormones, and Nazis. (And what better way to weaken the power of your enemy than to laugh at him.) No one is exempt from Brooks' politically incorrect humor.

This is an audacious show, and it's this audacity that makes us laugh. Brooks loves to take things over the top, and so he gives us at least a dozen elderly women dressed identically in blue pill box hats and navy outfits with lace, all dancing with walkers. He gives us tap-dancing Nazi youth. He gives us Vegas-like showgirls with a giant beer stein or a sausage on their heads.

And he gives us an extremely swishy, extremely gay, tap-dancing Hitler. (For that matter, Stalin and Churchill also appear and tap dance. FDR, who is in a wheelchair, uses two American flags to make tapping sounds.)

Sure, sometimes the jokes are old and predictable (for example: Bloom and Bialystock leering at their Swedish secretary's breasts, legs and posterior). But we laugh anyway, because it's funny.

Brooks has piled silliness upon silliness. It's almost as if he tried to outdo himself with each succeeding scene and song and dance number.

Amaral and Taylor are great with their physical humor — perfect Mel Brooks characters. And on opening night, understudy Erica Hamilton put in a sultry performance as Ulla, the producers' Swedish secretary.

Marland milked his character for all it was worth, especially when he's forced to portray Hitler at the last minute in the musical within the musical.

Special mention must be made of Pamela Dayton, who plays multiple roles throughout the evening, from a homeless woman to a gay electrician to an actor auditioning to portray Hitler. In a stage full of long-legged dancers, she stands out for her ability to play a wide range of minor characters. (It almost became a kind of "Where's Waldo" game to try to discover her in different scenes.)

The show was choreographed (and originally directed) by Tony Award-winning Susan Stroman, who has perfectly captured the feel of the show and is responsible for generating many of its laughs. And fellow Tony Award-winning William Ivey Long was responsible for the creative costumes.

The only complaint I have is that on opening night, the sound balance was off; the orchestra drowned out some of the lyrics, which was a shame.

We may not have "Your Show of Shows" or "Caesar's Hour" anymore, but we do have "The Producers," and it's hysterical, hilarious and wildly raucous.

Nancy Stetson can be reached at

© 2005 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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