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Theater Review (LA): The Producers by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan at the Carpenter Center

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Musical Theatre West has scored a coup of sorts by presenting the first local production of The Producers. According to Paul Garman, the Executive Director/Producer of Musical Theatre West, The Producers has topped the request list four years running.

His audience won’t be disappointed, because the show is first-rate. Much of this is due to Mathew J. Vargas’s recreation of Susan Stroman’s Broadway choreography. It doesn’t hurt that several key members of the cast are veterans of previous stagings and that the director is the skilled Steven Glaudini, the Artistic Director of Musical Theatre West. If you enjoyed the show in New York you will enjoy it here.

Michael Paternostro all but steals the show as the wildly effeminate Carmen Ghia, the assistant to the “worst director in the world,” who also happens to wear a dress. Roger DeBris is here joyously played by David Engel. Paternostro’s takes, walk, attitude, and voice brought down the house. I also thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Cornell as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen etc., the tall and leggy Swedish showgirl. She has legs that go on forever. Tracy Lore has fun with the role of Hold Me-Touch Me, an old rich lady who backs the shows of Max Bialystock (Michael Kostroff) and Leo Bloom (Larry Rabin). Nick Santa Maria makes a very funny Franz Liebkind, the crazed Nazi who writes the play Springtime For Hitler.

The show rises and falls on the two main characters, Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock. Larry Raben plays Leo as nearly a carbon copy of Matthew Broderick, who originated the role. Raben prevously played Leo on Broadway and in Las Vegas. I found Mr. Raben a bit too mechanical for my taste, but he is funny nevertheless. Michael Kostroff is a riot as Max Bialystock, the man who “invented theater in the square.” Nathan Lane originated the role and Mr. Kostroff was one of his standbys. Perhaps it is because he is more or less fresh to the role that he plays every moment truthfully and with great panache. Both Leo and Max require exacting movement and timing, and both actors performed the moves seamlessly.

You may not get another chance for a while to see such an excellent production, so drive on over to Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach and catch the hysteria. The Producers plays until February 15.

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