The Producers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Producers


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The Producers, Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. Mel Brooks's stage adaptation of his 1968 film reverts to the anything-for-a-laugh, politically incorrect musicals of its 1959 setting, flaunting lots of offensive stereotypes, especially of gays and Germans. With its unapologetically melodious score and Eisenhower-era evening wear, this retro revel revolves around shyster producers who hit pay dirt when they least expect or want to. Its fulsome tribute to Broadway and the dreamer-schemers behind the producers' neo-Nazi, lavender-hued pastiche is catnip to Brooks, a natural-born musical-comedy showman who found fame in Hollywood. Who else would have contrasted a cooing chorus of Nazi-loving pigeons with a kick line of little old ladies on walkers? Who else would have turned the conquest of Europe into a Ziegfeld production number?

After its tryout here in 2001, also directed by Susan Stroman, this touring version reveals few post-Broadway alterations, just some new sight gags. The big change is the cast. Brad Oscar virtually clones Nathan Lane's rubber-faced Max, slicing the ham thick. Unfortunately he can't forge a comic bond with Andy Taylor's hapless Leo--at least Taylor doesn't channel Matthew Broderick, but he forces the hysteria and underplays this accountant's infantile dependency on his mischievous mentor. Aiding and abetting Brooks's theatrical effort, written with Thomas Meehan, are cunning performances by Ida Leigh Curtis as Swedish siren Ulla, Stuart Marland as flaming director Roger De Bris, and Bill Nolte as the willing choreographer of "Springtime for Hitler."

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