By Mary Damiano
Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s new production of The Producers is a head-scratcher. How did this theatre that does things so right end up doing so much wrong with this show?
The Producers is Mel Brooks’ hilarious, splashy musical about theatrical producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom, who scheme to put on the worst musical ever, because, with some creative accounting, there’s more money to be made on a flop than a hit. Bialystock and Bloom find a script, “Springtime for Hitler” written by furhur-loving Nazi Franz Liebkind, hire flamboyant director Roger Debris.To gay it up, and then hire the worst actors available. They figure with that with so much bad, they’ll close the show on opening night and run off to Rio with $2 million. What could go wrong?
Turns out, a lot, in this musical within a musical.
First, let’s start with what goes right in the Maltz production. The ensemble is terrific, singing and tapping and dancing their way through big production numbers and oodles of costumes changes. The costumes by Gail Baldoni are over-the-top and fabulous. The scenic design, by Paul Tate DePoo III, with its odd angles and forced perspective, gives the show a quirky, whimsical quality. Shea Sullivan’s choreography is energetic and fun, and for the ensemble, often dazzling.
Roland Rusinek is the cast standout as Franz Liebkind. He milks every bit of humor out of his Franz, and seems to be the only one with an understanding of the tone The Producers needs to make it work.
So what goes wrong in the Maltz production? First there’s the scale. The Producers is a big musical, and this regional, scaled-back production doesn’t achieve the spectacle it should. One of the most famous numbers, “Along Came Bialy” which features a big dance number of little old ladies with walkers, feels small. And that’s the feeling of several of the big numbers—they simply lack the volume needed to pull them off successfully.
But the biggest problem with The Producers lies with its leads. Lenny Wolpe possesses none of the mania needed to make Max Bialystock work. Sure, he’s got a good voice, but his lack of energy brings the show way down. His big number, “Betrayed,” should be a tour-de-force solo that builds to a climactic finish, but Wolpe invests so little into the song that those few minutes are easily spent admiring Paul Black’s jail cell lighting design than being enthralled by Wolpe’s performance.
Mark Price fares a little better as Leo Bloom. Price comes off as a schlubby Tony Randall in posture and voice. He exhibits more energy, but his delivery is too slow and quiet, even toward the end when Leo should have grown a backbone. His best number is shared with his love interest, Swedish bombshell Ula (Elyse Collier) in the lovely duet “That Face”.
Maybe this production of The Producers will improve over the course of the run. Maybe Wolpe and Price will find their footing and let loose so their performances match the tone of the show. Maybe they can nail the leading man luster that this production lacks. But since none of that was evident on opening night, that’s a big maybe.
The Producers runs through January 29 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. JupiterTheatre.org