It's difficult when you have an iconic show to work with such as "The Producers" currently playing at Village Theatre. The Mel Brooks classic movie turned Mel Brooks mega hit stage musical turned Mel Brooks movie musical is definitely a big piece of musical theater history. Add in huge stars like Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane to that history and the result of subsequent productions can vary from bland imitation to just plain not in the same league to the other end of the spectrum with spot on awesome, but you'll always kind of compare with the original. Well, luckily the Village production is on that latter end of the spectrum. With their couldn't-be-better-if-they-tried cast they manage an amazing show and even a few departures along the way that only made it stronger.
With book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Music and Lyrics by Brooks, we are transported to a Broadway of old and the world of Max Bialystock (Richard Gray) who used to be the biggest producer in town or "The King of Broadway". But his hits have not been coming as frequently anymore. Enter his accountant Leo Bloom (Brian Earp), a meek little man with secret dreams of being a big shot producer. While going over Max's books he realizes that a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit as the IRS wouldn't be looking so closely at the books of a flop and the investors wouldn't expect any money back. So they find the worst script ever written, "Springtime for Hitler" written by former … er … "German soldier" Franz Liebkind (David Anthony Lewis), and the worst director in town, Roger Debris (Nick DeSantis) and embark on putting on the worst show in history. It's really Mel Brooks at his best with the completely silly, goofy and outright brash one-liners.
As I said the cast is spectacular. Gray takes Max to a whole new level. Not so much a rehash of what's been done before (although I did see a little Lane and Mostel in there) but takes him beyond the character and the comedy and into a flesh and blood person. Similarly Earp makes Leo his own and still keeps his innate sweetness and angst. And both of them have far superior voices than the original leads ever had. Jessica Skerritt as Swedish bombshell Ulla has the voice, moves, attitude and slink for the part and still has the comedic chops to take her beyond the blonde. I don't think I've seen Lewis before and I hope to see him so many more times in the future. From the moment we meet Franz we're comedically blown away by his presence, expressions, stance and then he opens his mouth and he owns us. Chris Ensweiler as Carmen Ghia, Roger's "Common Law Assistant", sweeps about the stage as if he were Julie Andrews on a mountaintop to hilarious result. And if there could possibly be a stand out in this juggernaut of a cast, I'd have to go with DeSantis in a stunning turn as the overtly effeminate director Debris. Killer voice, as usual, but I don't know if I've ever seen him throw himself into a part so much. Every move, look, and twitch was utter perfection and he took the role to places I've never seen.
And I must mention some scene stealing moments from ensemble members who took some smaller parts and ran off with them. Aaron Shanks is an Aryan dream with a stunning voice and little glint in his eye as the "Lead Tenor" from the show within the show. Abby Duke Pollard had everyone rolling with laughter as Hold Me-Touch Me. Matt Wade wowed a couple of times as both Roger's choreographer Kevin and an overly ambitious auditioner. And Matt Wolfe stole too many scenes with two many bit parts to number.