WOW — Everything in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” is BIG: the size of the cast, the over-the-top characters, the relentless politically incorrect humor, the sweeping scope of the show, the eagerness to win laughs, and the volume of both music and dialogue.
It’s entirely fitting then that the massive hit show (it won a record-breaking 12 Tonys in 2001) is being lovingly produced in one of the Quad Cities’ biggest theaters, the soaring Spotlight in downtown Moline, with over 500 seats. The new production — colorful and chaotic, directed with flair and ridiculous good humor by Brent Tubbs — pretty much demands that you have a good time, and overall, it succeeds.
It’s clear that the main leads Chris Tracy as Max Bialystock and Max Robnett as Leo Bloom are hopelessly devoted to the show-bizzy show, and wring everything they can out of it. It’s a boundlessly tasty treat — filled with hammy, cheesy performances — that sometimes leaves you feeling overstuffed.
The story (based on the Oscar-winning 1967 Brooks film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by fraudulently overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful.
To ensure that the play in “The Producers” is a total failure, Max chooses the tasteless script “Springtime for Hitler” (which he describes as “practically a love letter to Adolf Hitler”), and hires the worst director he can find (Roger DeBris), a stereotypical homosexual and cross-dressing caricature.
The musical within a musical is described “as an equal opportunity offender: Jews are portrayed as so greedy they make merchandise out of Hitler, gay men are lispy and limp-wristed — and sexually depraved old women struggle to a sexual fling on their walkers.”
Mel Brooks is no fan of subtlety, so the jokes here are big and obvious and the 29 enthusiastic actors must be having a grand old time bringing the goofiness to us, in a time when we desperately need such goofiness.
Taking his inspiration more from Zero Mostel than Nathan Lane (the original Broadway Bialystock), Tracy is loopy, single-minded, frantic and exhausted in his goal to both produce a flop and win big bucks (Max and Leo are floored, “Where did we go right?”).
Tracy’s big blockbuster of a rare dramatic, intense turn is in Act 2, with his tumultuous, impressive soliloquy, “Betrayed.” Robnett is equally energetic (while shy and anxious, compared to Tracy’s barreling confidence), shining in a rare emotional ballad in the show, ” ‘Til Him,” which comes soon after.
The too-muchness of the show can be seen when there seems to be excessive yelling of lines, especially with Robnett, who actually has a very magnetic, stylish personality, and I’d love to see him in a much quieter, classier play.
The other male leads in “The Producers” are showy, vulgar stereotypes — Noah Hill as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (I can’t believe he also was the title character in the Spotlight’s “Charlie Brown”); Joel Kolander as the flamboyant gay director Roger DeBris and Brycen Witt as his flaming, long-legged common-law assistant Carmen Ghia. They’re suitably hilarious.
Huge and ostentatious are also the sizable production numbers, featuring flashy chorus-girl kick lines, sexy Nazi women in short shorts, and a long line of old ladies tapping with their walkers. Special kudos to choreographer Shana Kulhavy and costumer Sara Wegener for their herculean efforts (one ensemble number appropriately features cartoonishly large breasts on some women, and some bizarre head gear).
As the female lead, the Swedish blonde bombshell Ulla, Kirsten Sindelar is a consistent delight, with a light comic touch and gorgeous singing voice. She has definitely got it, and knows how to flaunt it.
My only main reservation is that the nine-person orchestra “pit” (which is way up high in the back loft at the theater), led by Chad Schmertmann, is often too loud and it’s hard to hear the singers at many times throughout the show. The body-mics also are echo-y and produce more a mush than a clear sound, which takes away from much of the clever wordplay. For some reason, a solo violin at the start of the show couldn’t be heard.
One character in “The Producers” calls the show within a show “outrageous and insulting, but I loved every minute of it.” That’s pretty much my takeaway.
Spotlight’s production will continue at 1800 7th Ave., Moline, this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information, click HERE.