Confessions of a Mel Brooks Fan

2014-02-12 17:53:13
The Producers
Plummer Auditorium
210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton
Through February 16
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.;
Sunday at 2 p.m.;
Saturday, February 15 at 2 p.m.

Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach
February 21-March 2
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.;
Sunday at 2 p.m.;
Saturday, March 1 at 2 p.m.

Reservations: 714.589.2770
:: 3dtshows.com

My name is Lee and I love Mel Brooks.

I admit it, Mel Brooks is one of my comedic heroes, and I have been a huge fan since I was old enough to get his humor. I take great satisfaction quoting a line from Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety or sometimes even, dare I say it, Spaceballs. Director, producer, writer, actor Brooks is the master of satire, who has been entertaining and proudly offending audiences for over 50 years. Within his impressive catalog of hilarious, politically incorrect works is one of his jewels, The Producers. This month, 3D Theatricals brings this production to Fullerton and Redondo Beach, opening their fifth season with yet another winner.

The Producers, as described in the program is “a play about a play based on a movie about a play.” The original film was produced in 1968 and starred Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. It was a cult classic, a very dark satire and has earned its place in history as one of AFI’s top comedic films. In 2001, Brooks teamed with Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman to adapt the film into a musical and bring the show to Broadway. Brooks consulted with composer Jerry Herman, soliciting him to write the score, but Herman refused, knowing Brooks was an accomplished songwriter and would do a better job on his own. The musical version is a lighter and happier take on the original film, and the edits made sense moving from film to stage.

The show was a huge hit, winning a historical amount of Tonys (12 in all, beating the record held by Hello Dolly) and had a successful NYC run and subsequent national tours. Susan Stroman choreographed and directed the original Broadway production and the subsequent 2005 film of the musical version of The Producers. It starred original Broadway cast members Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach, and Roger Bart. Additionally, Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman added to the all-star cast.

3D Theatricals brought back the fantastic David Lamoureux and Linda Love Simmons to recreate the original Broadway direction and choreography, and along with the costumes and sets brought in from NetWorks with set designer Robin Wagner, lighting design by Steven Young, sound and audio by Julie Ferrin, you have a Broadway hit presented with the same vigor and quality as that of the Great White Way.

Max and Leo, the odd couple who devise a scheme to bilk investors out of millions by producing the offensive musical Springtime For Hitler, are played brilliantly by Jay Brian Winnick (Max Bialystock) and Jeff Skowron (Leo Bloom). Both actors bring their own sense of comedy to their portrayals and are endearing and lovable, even in their most despicable moments. Hillary Michael Thompson portrays Ulla, the Swedish bombshell, who becomes the production secretary/lead actress in the musical based on Hitler’s life and times, and she brings the sex appeal and Monroe-esque qualities that make the part sizzle. And, of course, the bonus is this Huntington Beach-native can really sing and dance.  

But the one who steals the show is David Engel, who plays Roger De Bris, the over-the-top director/actor who sashays in to play Hitler after the actor breaks his leg opening night. Engel, a skilled performer with numerous Broadway credits, has mastered this delicious role, and is hilarious, with terrific comedic timing and over-the-top antics. His stage partner, Carmen Ghia, is brought to life by Leigh Wakeford, who works every bit he can into his entrances and exits. To round off the cast is the slightly deranged, Hitler-loving, pigeon hobbyist and playwright Franz Liebkind, played by Norman Large.

The Producers is chockfull of bits inappropriate, hilarious and quite complicated to pull off. Numerous costume changes, intricate choreography and set changes lend to one of the hardest working ensembles in any show. Where else but in a Mel Brooks production would you witness little old ladies dancing with walkers, or Nazis goose-stepping in the shape of a swastika, mirrored so the audience can see, a la Busby Berkeley.

The musical numbers are loud, silly and fun, all presented in wonderful spectacle, as Brooks intended. 3D Theatricals once again spares no expense or effort with The Producers. It shows great in the historic landmark Plummer Auditorium. So if you need a break from Olympic coverage, I highly recommend a trip to Fullerton. If you can’t make it, 3D takes the show up the road to the South Bay’s Redondo Performing Arts for two more weekends, which is a more modern and comfortable venue and close to lots of great restaurants.

If you are a Brooks fan like me, don’t miss this opportunity to feed your habit and take in this stellar production. It truly is as close as we can get to Broadway in Orange County at a regional level. After four successful seasons, it is certain that 3D Theatricals’ Dawson clan has earned the right to sport some fedoras – they are the real deal.


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