Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

'The Producers' shows Brooks still on top

The Producers
Written by Mel Brooks
Based on the movie of the same name
Directed by Susan Stroman

Nationally touring production

Mel Brooks is a pretty funny guy for a supposed has-been.

Decades after his last hit movie, at a point when his career was supposedly over, two years ago Brooks stormed back with a stage musical version of his movie "The Producers." It not only packed the house, making Brooks an even more-wealthy man, but won a record 12 Tonys as well.

The touring version of the Broadway smash, in San Diego for a two-week stay, shows that Brooks' wicked humor has lost none of its power to zing – or raise eyebrows. Politically incorrect as ever, skewering every sacred cow in sight, "The Producers" is as funny as it is naughty.

The Producers

"The Producers" also shows that Brooks – famed for his film classics like "Young Frankenstein," "Silent Movie" and "Blazing Saddles" – is a heck of a good composer. Brooks wrote both the music and lyrics for all the songs in the "The Producers," only two of which were holdovers from the 1968 film. (And, yes, "Springtime for Hitler" is reprised here.) If his songs don't have the immediate accessibility of Andrew Lloyd Webber or the eternal appeal of Rodgers and Hammerstein, they are melodic and the lyrics are entertaining, if bawdy.

While just as visually stimulating as any Broadway extravaganza, "The Producers" is too self-effacing to ever slide into mere extravagance. As with Brooks' movies, there are repeated moments of self-referential asides that remind us that this is just a silly comedy.

As for the cast, this touring production may lack the star power of the original Broadway cast which featured Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick – but what Lewis J. Stadlen and Don Stephenson lack in name recognition they more than make up for with talent and enthusiasm. Stadlen is especially good as Max Bialystock, the down-on-his-luck producer portrayed by Lane (and Zero Mostel in the film version). At times, Stadlen sounds almost like Brooks himself Ÿ his timing is that good, his facial expressions and delivery that deadpan.

The show is recommended for mature audiences - and while there's no nudity, Brooks' humor on stage is no more mature than in his films. What your mother used to call potty language abounds throughout the script, and Brooks' adolescent fixation on body parts hasn't lessened in seven decades.

That said, "The Producers" is funny as all get-out. Mel Brooks remains one of our best satirists, and "The Producers" works every bit as well on stage as it did on film.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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