Written by theatre critic: Dan Mason
Sacramento’s famed Music Circus kicked off it’s 61st season of summer stock this week with what is billed as a “dream cast” of the Mel Brooks Tony Award winning smash, The Producers. Seeing as Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are nowhere to be found at the Wells Fargo Pavillon, that might be a reach. Nevertheless, this cast, comprised of former members of the Broadway and touring companies, provide an entertaining version of one of the most critically acclaimed musicals of the last decade.
For those completely out of the loop, The Producers was the Book of Mormon of the 2001 season, taking home 12 Tonys and setting a single day box office record of 3 million dollars, which I believe might still stand to this day. It’s the story of a con artist and his milquetoast accountant who concoct a scheme to steal two million dollars by producing the worst show in the history of Broadway; the Nazi love letter, Springtime For Hitler.
As the crooked producer Max Bialystock, Bob Amaral revisits a role that he played in the second national tour and he provides just the right amount of smarminess to Max. While he has a sharp comedic timing, Mr. Amaral seemed to struggle at times in this particular performance; flubbing lines in the opening “King of Broadway” number as well as stumbling in two other moments in the first act. By the time he gets to “Betrayed” in act 2, he seemed to be a little tired and running out of steam.
Matt Loehr, as Leo Bloom, was an ensemble member of the original Broadway cast ten years ago and has worked steadily in New York since, most recently as Sean Hayes’ understudy in Promises, Promises and in last December’s debut of Elf. Loehr is a fantastic singer and dancer, who shines in numbers like “I Wanna Be a Producer” and “Til Him”. However, broad, physical comedy is not his forte, as he was way overdoing it in the first act, even for a role that calls for an actor to be over-the-top while playing Leo’s neuroses.
Sarah Cornell played the role of sexy secretary Ulla on both Broadway and in the original Toronto production, where she was recognized with a Dora Award nomination. She also possesses a razor sharp comic sensibility, although one has to wonder if it was harder for her to comfortably slip back into this role after many years way, as she struggled with her breath support and seemed winded in spots of “If You Got It, Flaunt It”.
On this night, the strongest performers on the stage are the men who originated the roles that they played. Even ten years after winning the Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical, Gary Beach seems as fresh as ever as the crossdressing director Roger DeBris. He consistently got the biggest laughs and stole all of the scenes he was in and had especially great chemistry with the very funny Michael Paternostro, as Carmen. It was a triumphant return to Music Circus for Mr. Beach, who disappointed as King Arthur in last season’s Spamalot.
As the Nazi enthusiast playwright, Franz Liebkind, Bill Nolte is another standout who finds the just the right level of “crazy” without making it seem that he is pushing too hard. Both actors were just on a different level from the rest of the cast, providing the kind of polish to their performances that made them outshine the other lead actors on the stage.
Costume designs always seem to be a strength at Music Circus, and this show is another shining example. Mark Koss does an exceptional job of making all of the actors onstage look great. Director Glenn Casale keeps what is a pretty long show (easily two hours and 45 minutes) zipping along as fast as one could hope, and the production does not seem to lose anything by being presented in the round.
The Producers runs through Sunday, July 17th, 2011. Ticket information can be found at calmt.com.
One note to the financially troubled Music Circus – We realize that you rely heavily on donations to keep the theater open, but a ten-minute curtain speech before a show that is already pushing three hours is too much. For the sake of the audience, please keep the evening moving.