On Stage

The Producers

Of satire, songs and swastikas

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When one of the sound technicians at a recent rehearsal of the Mount Baker Theatre’s Main Stage Production of The Producers escorted me to my seat and told me to “Enjoy the swastikas!,” I thought he was being facetious. Spoiler alert: He was not being facetious.

Indeed, through the course of the song-and-dance spectacular, I saw swastikas sported by a number of characters, including Nazi enthusiast Franz Liebkind (Danny Kam), primary players Max Bialystock (Rich Gray) and Leo Bloom (Casey Raiha), a slew of chorus members, and even a cage full of cooing pigeons.

Fans of the Tony Award-winning comedy penned by longtime funnyman Mel Brooks already know that rather than repel audiences, the swastikas—in the context of the play, at least—are part of the allure.

Audiences first see the evil emblems after Bialystock—a failing producer who has resorted to seducing randy old ladies in order to finance his productions—convinces his twitchy new accountant, Mr. Bloom, that they can become rich by cooking the books. The only challenge they have to overcome is that, in order to make the kind of money that will enable them to retire and move to Rio, they must raise more funds than they actually need and produce a surefire flop.

After reading through a mountain of horrible plays, the duo discovers a godawful gem dubbed Springtime for Hitler. Upon convincing the aforementioned Liebkind that they’re worthy of his maniacal masterwork, the crazy German playwright sends them on their way—but not before gifting them with sporty swastika armbands.

Fans of The Producers already know that, despite its title and pro-Fuhrer subject matter, Springtime for Hitler becomes a smash musical, and the producing team of Bialystock and Bloom must soon decide whether they’re going to take the money and run or come clean and forfeit their fortune.

Because the subject matter concerns charlatans who feel they must churn out a disaster, those who decide to produce The Producers have to walk a fine line when it comes to entertaining audiences. They’ve got to have good actors who can pretend to be bad actors, enough smarts to let the audience in on the jokes without acknowledging that satire is the name of the game, and a supporting cast who can sing, dance and, among other things, deal with a dizzying array of costume changes.

And even though Colorado-based director Bud Coleman reminded me before the show that I was watching the first dress rehearsal that included the 22-piece live orchestra, and that the show wasn’t 100 percent polished, I’m happy to report that the MBT’s production of The Producers fits all the criteria for a successful show.

It’s entertaining as hell, combines the talents of local and regional actors and musicians, and utilizes the spectacular setting that is the Mount Baker Theatre. If producers of The Producers were hoping for a flop, they’re out of luck.

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