It’s no surprise that Mel Brooks’ The Producers is a perennial favorite on stages everywhere — the perfectly attuned blend of silly sight gags, broad vulgarity, and zinging satire makes for what is possibly Brooks’ greatest work. But that doesn’t mean a production is guaranteed to deliver. Whether it will flop or go is dependent on the success of numerous set changes, intricate choreography, elaborate costumes, and a stable of highly distinctive characters. It’s a lot to juggle.
Village Theatre’s production succeeds on all fronts with superb casting, energetic but steady direction by Steve Tomkins, and precise choreography by Kristin Holland. There are a few occasional concessions for size (e.g. the set design for Whitehall and Marks Accounting, reduced from a fleet of desks to a couple benches), but this is a full-fledged, fully entertaining staging of the musical and an exceptionally high note for Village to end its season on.
Essential to the show’s success is the casting of diametric opposites Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, a scheming Broadway producer and a nebbishy accountant who team up to fleece investors out of millions by producing the worst play ever written. Richard Gray is a marvelously lecherous Bialystock, his inherent deceptiveness on display at every turn. Despite looking a little too young for the part, Brian Earp is an inspired Bloom, his screechy bundle of neuroses melting away into a smooth tenor during his musical numbers, a nicely realized representation of the character’s Broadway dreams.
When the duo stumbles upon Springtime for Hitler, a reverential ode to the late dictator, they’re sure a flop is guaranteed, and they enlist the notoriously awful director Roger Debris (Nick DeSantis) to seal the deal. DeSantis is plenty funny as the pretentious, cross-dressing Debris, but when the character must sub in on opening night and play Hitler himself, DeSantis puts it in high gear, delivering what I’m certain is the funniest thing I’ll see on a Seattle stage this year. Just thinking about his flamboyant Führer and his declaration to “Heil myself” is about enough to put me on the floor.
It’s hard to top the gleeful irreverence of “Springtime for Hitler,” and The Producers is subject to somewhat diminishing returns as it wraps up its story. Still, Village’s production never lags, even in its final few numbers as Bialystock and Bloom try to come to terms with their unexpected success and their mutual interest in leggy Swedish blonde Ulla (Jessica Skerritt).
Village Theatre is often known for the way it develops and fosters new musicals — something it does remarkably well — but The Producers is a fantastic reminder that its productions of classics aren’t simply perfunctory ticket-selling enterprises. At its best, Village produces the most entertaining musicals in Seattle, and The Producers is Village at its best.
Village Theatre’s Issaquah location will play host to The Producers through July 1, and afterward it will move to the Everett location for a run from July 6 to July 29. Tickets are available for purchase on Village’s website.