When Mel Brooks’s classic comedy The Producers made the leap to Broadway, everybody thought the stars had an insurmountable task. How could Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick live up to the pitch-perfect performances of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder? Seven years and 12 Tonys later, it seems the question has reversed: How could any other actors live up to the legacy of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick?
Thankfully, the stars at the Westchester Broadway Theater’s production of The Producers—Bob Amaral as producer/seducer Max Bialystock and Joel Newsome as meek accountant Leo Bloom—are able to get past the long shadows of their forerunners, mixing those stars’ sensibilities with their own. Add to them a few scene-stealing performances from Eric Anderson (Franz Liebkind, the playwright a little too enamored of the Führer) and John West (Carmen Ghia, a flamboyant theater aficionado), and you’ve got a particularly strong ensemble for comedy.
And it is all about comedy. It’s a good thing that what Mel Brooks lacks in songwriting skill, he makes up in wit. In this show, the comedic timing is more complex than the rhythm needed for the dance numbers, and luckily the cast is up to the task. The only caveat is that you’ll only enjoy these well-timed performances if your idea of a funny joke matches Brooks’s. Chances are, you already know if it does or not. The Producers is often bawdy, a little vulgar, and certainly not politically correct. I would’ve been embarrassed if I had brought my grandmother to the show. Then again, those sitting in the row behind me looked like they could have been grandmothers, and they were having a blast.
One interesting not about The Producers is that both the musical and the film based on the musical were directed by Susan Stroman, who got her start at the Westchester Broadway Theater. To find out what other theater personalities started at the WBT, and to read about some wacky situations our local producers had to cope with, read “Live from New York” from our August 2008 issue.