"The Producers," Skylight Opera Company
On Wednesday night, December 17th, we enjoyed our "holiday" outing to the theatre by, perversely enough, taking in the Skylight Opera Company's production of Mel Brook's "The Producers" instead of something like "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker."
One has to give the Skylight kudos for programming this cynical, satirical, and anything-but seasonal piece counter to those two perrennial big draws mounted by the Milwaukee Rep and the Milwaukee Ballet, resepectively. Judging by the house, they were doing quite well, as they should be, given the strength of the show. Local critics have compared it favorably with the Broadway production, and, given certain necessary reductions in scale for the size of the house, I would have to agree.
It certainly is one of the most lavish productions I have seen the Skylight mount, with over 150 costumes, nearly as many wigs, and fifteen scene changes in the two acts, all of which are put to good use.
The cast is lead by Bill Theisen as Max Bialystock and Brian Vaughn as Leo Bloom. Both are very good, have excellent comic timing, sing well, and handle such dancing as they are given adequately. My only citicism would be that Vaughn's nasally neurotic voice occasionally defaults to a Midwestern open-ness--. (OK--, while Theisen and Vaughn are, in my mind, every bit as good as Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, it must be admitted that none of them have quite the edge of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but then, who does? Probably one of the tragedies of musical theater would be that this version didn't come along while Mostel and Wilder were both still around and able to do it--.) Vaughn was particularly effective working gags with Bloom's blue blanket, and Thiesen earned his full night's pay with the one tour-de-force "Betrayed", in which he holds the stage alone and essentially recaps the entire show up to that point solo.
Of course, once the plot takes off, Bialystock and Bloom become relatively normal compared to the loons they work with in bringing "Springtime for Hitler" to the stage, and in this regard Thiesen and Vaughn had a stellar supporting cast. Molly Rhode, as Ulla (pronounced "OO-la") showed off marvelous comic timing, a great set of pipes (almost too loud for the house with amplification on "Along Came Bialy"), excellent physical acting chops, and never lost her juicy "Svedish" accent once.
The indefatigable Ray Jivoff, one of Milwaukee's hardest working actors, was gloriously shameless as taste-challenged director Roger De Bris, and Jonathan West was almost beleveable as the stage-struck SS veteran Franz Lebekind.
And speaking of hard work, one must mention the ensemble, fourteen actors who danced and sang their way through roles as theatregoers, policemen, judges and jurors, prisoners, the cast of "Springtime", and Bialystock's harem of moneyed old women (even the men!).
This was a great job by everyone concerned and thouroughly enjoyed. The cast received a standing ovation, heartily joined by, I was amused to note, the tall old man wearing the yamulke, a few seats over from us--.