The cast is great, the script is swell, but this I’m telling you, sirs. It’s just no go, you’ve got no show without The Producers! And Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has got a show because they’ve got The Producers as the final offering of their 50th Anniversary season this summer. The iconic Mel Brooks musical arrives at Annapolis’ own theatre under the stars venue under the Direction of Jerry Vess with Musical Direction by Anita O’Connor. With a production team that never quits, and some impressive talent peppered throughout the performance, it’s a strong finish for the 50th season; the show concludes the 2016 summer run on a strong note.
Scenic Artist Sue Tilberry and Set Designer peter Kaiser work together to craft a realistic series of Broadway-based scenery that fits the bill for the show. The exterior of the Shubert Theatre never looked so simultaneously lively and distressed as it does under their vivid fabrication. Hats off to Kaiser’s folding hinge work as it makes transitions from outside the theatre to inside spaces like Max Bialystock’s office a cinch. The reveal for the ‘show within a show’ is striking (and offset brilliantly by the subdued red lighting compliments of Lighting Designer Matt Tillett.) Together the combined artistry of Tilberry and Kaiser makes for a fun and functional set, making them a pair almost as clever as Bialystock and Bloom.
Costumer Jocelyn Odell and her quartet of assistants— Caitlin Martinez, Juliana Capuco, Margot Buckley, and Anna Fitzgerald— outfit the troupe of performers in styles that are well suited for each of the characters. Though the wigs and headpieces could stand for a bit of polishing, on the whole Odell’s design work is sharp, especially when it comes to the basics, like Ulla’s dress or the suits that are worn by the title characters. Odell pays particular attention to detail when it comes to the Chrysler Building gown for Roger and militant lederhosen for Franz. The quality of the Springtime for Hitler costumes, in particularly the sausage and pretzel flavored pieces, are questionable, but this could be an intentional choice in hopes of making the show as shoddy as possible in an attempt to ensure its utter flopping rate of failure.
Variety is the spice of life and Choreographer Emily Frank ensures that there is a handful of spicy flavors featured in the dance routines that arise throughout the performance. While a great deal of Frank’s choreography relies on old Vaudeville and Follies inspired techniques, there is something to be said for the classical vein in which she approaches the show’s dance aesthetic. The dance routines are executed with enthusiasm, if not always the most succinct of synchronization, but what the troupe lacks in precision unity they more than make up for with their eager energy. Highlights of Frank’s work include the shuffle-tap walkers in “Along Came Bialy”, the parade of movement featured during “Springtime for Hitler” and uproarious cacophony of glee that alights itself in the guise of dance during “Keep it Gay.” Keep an eye out for Rashad Ferguson, who appears in the latter of the aforementioned numbers, as the acrobatically engaged Sabu.
The show’s primary problem seems to be with musical timing. Orchestra Conductor Ken Kimble struggles to keep the pit with the performers throughout quite a few numbers, though it only seems to be at the start of a number where most of these pacing problems occur. Given that Kimble’s visuals of the cast are completely cut off and the penchant for opening night nerves, it can only be hoped and optimistically assumed that these issues will adjust and tighten as the performance rolls through its run. Kimble does find a good balance with the volume levels of the production to keep the pit from overpowering the ensemble and soloists.
Leo (Nathan Bowen) and Max (B. Thomas Rinaldi), back on their tracks are doing their best to turn the boards of ASGT into the Great White Way. Bowen and Rinaldi do give strong performances, for the most part, and consistently throughout the show, though watching the way they push through some of the more demanding routines— both vocally and physically— gives pause and lends question to their overall sustainability. The pair, though exceptionally well matched to both each other in the vein of chemistry and to their roles respectively, struggles somewhat to keep up with what’s happening throughout the course of the show and often appear and sound somewhat winded by the end of more intense numbers.
That said, both Bowen and Rinaldi do fine jobs of enhancing their characters’ personas for the full enjoyment of the audience. Bowen, as the meager and mopey Leo Bloom, is ripe with milquetoast moments that fit the comedic bill for the cowardly caterpillar. His spastic meltdown in Max’s office in their initial encounter is wildly humorous. Bowen’s fleet-footed abilities are witnessed both in his adorable duet with Ulla (Erica Miller), “That Face” where not only does he show off a little fancy partnered dancing but a great vocal clarity, and earlier in “I Wanna Be a Producer.” Bringing a personalized flare to this number, Bowen finds his moment in the spotlight and razzle dazzles the audience with his big finish here, both vocally and physically, more than making up for the other moments— minor though they be— where he falls just short of stellar.
Rinaldi is channeling the spirit of Nathan Lane from the moment he appears from behind the newspaper straight through to the show’s finale. With a few line stumbles here and there— no doubt someone wished him ‘good luck’ just before opening night— Rinaldi’s robust rendition of nearly every song he performs pays homage to Lane’s work in some subtle way or another. His heady guiding personality is perfect to take the lead in duets with Leo like “We Can Do It” and “Where Did We Go Right?” The number that takes the cake for Rinaldi is, however, “Betrayed.” Showcasing his ability to patter, belt, sustain, and engage the audience in a hysterical fashion, Rinaldi finds his own footing in this number and really wins the audience over with this performance.
Erica Miller, who takes on Ulla, is a visual if not a vocal delight in the role. Consistent in her delivery of the Swedish accent, Miller finds a way to flaunt her character acting skills throughout the performance, particularly when it comes to flirting with Leo. Strutting her stuff all through “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”, Miller does a fine job of titillating both of the producers and everyone in the audience with her brassy moves and sassy voice. Though her belt, delivered immediately after the line “and now Ulla belt” pops up a bit into her head voice, Miller has other moments, during “Springtime for Hitler” and her duet with Leo, “That Face”, where her vocal prowess is readily and appealingly on display.
The two leading principals are strong and carry the show well, but it’s the supporting characters that make the show pop from the boards of the ASGT stage. Stealing the show every time he takes the stage, Josh Mooney, as the high-strung and tightly wound Franz Liebkind, is a performing sensation. (Noted too should be his scene-stealing pigeons, particularly Adolf with the swastika on wing, but there’s neither puppeteer nor puppet creator credited.) Mooney, who delivers a flawlessly uproarious and outrageous German accent, runs away with the entirety of his scene, including the number “Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop.” Vocally pristine, Mooney carries his accent through to his singing voice without ever compromising the musical or lyrical integrity of the number. Resurfacing in the second act with “Have You Heard the German Band?” Mooney once again steals the show between his pitch-perfect big belting sound and his zany dancing.
As they say, shows should be more pretty, shows should be more witty, shows should be more— what’s the word? Gay! Carmen Ghia (Kevin James Logan) and Roger DeBris (Pete Thompson) sprinkle every scene they touch with fabulous glitter, leaving the audience in stitches over their campy, highly theatrical nonsense. Logan, who is the hissing, shrieking, shrill paramour of Thompson’s DeBris, delivers a sassy, frilly, and wildly entertaining rendition of the flamingly flamboyant character. Between his hissing at Max and Leo upon their arrival and his perfectly delivered unison cries with Thompson during the madness in Max’s office after “Where Did We Go Right?”, Logan keeps the audience bursting with giddiness as he goes for gold in the melodramatic Olympics.
Thompson, who lives up to the epitaph of ‘being so gay he nearly flew away’ gives an uproarious rendition of “Springtime for Hitler” swishing, dishing, and sashaying the Fuhrer to flamingly flamboyant infamy that will be permanently blazoned into the brains of all watching. Owning “Keep it Gay”, with the rowdy support of ‘Rogers Team’ (Jason Beall, Andrew Gordon, Adam Timko, and Stephanie Berholz), there are simply too many fabulous things happening with his performance in this number to merely talk about them. Thompson brings a fervent chemistry to the relationship between he and Logan; this unique bond between them radiates through both scene and song, particularly when they take up bits and pieces of “It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Op’ning Night.”
All in all a successful show, The Producers is a feel good delight that will never quit— hit after hit this summer, but it only plays through September 4, so now’s the time to jump online and snag your tickets before it closes!
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
The Producers plays through September 4, 2016 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre— 143 Compromise Street in Historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-9212 or purchase them online.