Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: The Producers - Another Big Hit for 3-D Theatricals

Jay Brian Winnick (Max Bialystock) and Jeff Skowron (Leo Bloom)
Photos by Isaac James Creative

3-D Theatricals has rapidly become the hot destination for Broadway musical theatre entertainment in Southern California. Want to make sure your money will buy you a ticket to a show that includes top-notch talent in all departments? Go to 3DT. With a stellar string of hits that includes Funny Girl, Parade, Shrek the Musical, and Avenue Q, they have proven that whether the scale is big or small, they know how to produce a show the audience will love. 

This time the property is Mel Brooks’ The Producers, winner of 12 Tony® Awards and a musical that so refuses to be politically correct you can’t do anything but shake your head and go along for the ride. Brooks’ stock in trade has always been his ability to know what’s funny, especially the kind of funny that relentlessly skewers its subjects. The Producers exemplifies that at every level.

Jay Brian Winnick (Max Bialystock) lands Brooks’ one-liners with the kind of confidence that comes when you’re completely living inside a character, and this one’s a doozy. Only a guy like Max would scam his investors by producing the worst Neo-Nazi musical in history to make sure it would be a flop. And yet Springtime For Hitler, full of every stereotype and bawdy joke possible - lascivious little old ladies, an over-the-top gay director, chorus girls revolving in the shape of a swastika, and Adolf Hitler as the leading man - does exactly the opposite. It becomes a smash hit. Oy!

Max’s initially unwilling partner in crime is insecure accountant, Leo Bloom, played brilliantly by Jeff Skowron. Drawn in by the realization that his life couldn’t possibly get any worse, he quits his job and signs on to be a producer with Max. From there it’s one big series of hilarious situations as the pair goes about the business of mounting a flop.

As a comedy team, Winnick and Skowron are firing on all cylinders, each with his own unique rhythm and attack. It’s impressive the way Skowron can set up a gag and draw it out until the last possible moment before letting the comic tension release, and quite a departure from his previous Ovation Award-winning role as Leo Frank in 3DT’s Parade. He can sing beautifully, dance like Fred Astaire, whine like a toddler when provoked, and go from deadpan wimp to sweet leading man in short order.

Winnick plays the conniver with a relentless determination that drives this fast-moving production forward while grounding it in a reality all his own. This is his stage, his show, his hit, and he owns it from beginning to end. Nowhere is that more evident than his delirious 11 o’clock number “Betrayed,” a showstopper that recaps the entire musical in just over 4 minutes and brings down the house.

Wonderfully eccentric characters make up the supporting cast. Norman Large (comically terrifying as Franz Liebkind), David Engel (in a raucously flamboyant performance as Roger De Bris), and Leigh Wakeford (Roger’s common law assistant Carmen Ghia) are a crazy trio. Wakeford has mastered the art of the slow burn and how to exit a room to such a degree that every move the tall, lanky actor makes is met with gales of laughter, and Swedish bombshell Ulla (Hilary Michael Thompson) is enough to make every straight man salivate within miles.

This buddy musical pitches one big production number after another, all recreated with Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography by David Lamoureux and Linda Love Simmons, respectively. It’s a huge undertaking and boy does it work. The entire company’s ‘got it’ and you can watch them ‘flaunt it’ full out in every number. Little old ladies dancing with walkers get their due, as do 6-foot tall showgirls wearing bratwurst on their heads and tankards of beer on their hips while being serenaded beautifully by tenor Caleb Shaw in full Nazi uniform. A Broadway musical has never looked or sounded better.

That’s due in part to the technical work of sound designer Julie Ferrin and lighting designer Steven Young. Ferrin has the seemingly easy, but actually monumental, task of balancing the sound so lyrics can be understood and all of the rapid fire jokes can be heard. It’s a critical element in a musical comedy like The Producers and her work here is exemplary. Young alternates the overly bright, shiny world of Broadway with the dilapidated real life scenes in between so seamlessly that you may not even realize how it transforms the whole feel of the set. Plus, his recreation of the final iconic stage picture is the perfect final button.

If life really is about not taking anything too seriously, as Mel Brooks would have us believe, then do yourself a favor and see 3DT’s production of The Producers. It may be politically incorrect but its the funniest version of this musical Ive ever seen and it will push you to have a good time in spite of yourself. Yes, it’s another one of my must-see musicals of 2014. 

Hilary Michael Thompson, Jay Brian Winnick and Jeff Skowron

Jay Brian Winnick and company

Jeff Skowron and Hilary Michael Thompson

Kim Arnett, Tracy Lore, Bonnie Kovar and the company of The Producers

The company of The Producers

David Engel as Roger De Bris

Leigh Wakeford as Carmen Ghia

Jay Brian Winnick and Jeff Skowron

THE PRODUCERS
Jan. 31 - Feb. 16, 2014
Plummer Auditorium
201 East Chapman Avenue

Fullerton, CA 92832

Feb. 21 - March 2, 2014
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
1935 E. Manhattan Blvd
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
Tickets to both locations: www.3dtshows.com

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