Review: The Producers | Casa Manana | Casa Manana Theatre

Laughing Matters

At Casa Mañana, The Producers remains profane, outrageous and a furiously funny satire.

published Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Photo: Chip Tompkins
Clockwise from top left: John Treacy Egan, Julia Knitel and Dan DeLuca star in The Producers at Casa Mañana

Fort Worth — A scheming, luckless producer and his timid accountant partner up to produce the biggest flop on Broadway in Mel Brooks' The Producers, his cult movie from 1968, bolstered with funny, offensive songs to become the Broadway hit of 2001 that won 12 Tony Awards (still the most ever).

Like the long-running Broadway production, starring illustrious stage veterans Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the show depends on the bromance between its two leading actors. In Casa Mañana's glittering and delightfully offensive production, John Treacy Egan is Max Bailystock, the former "King of Broadway" and the "first producer to do summer stock in winter," a staunchly physical actor reminiscent of Zero Mostel (star of the original movie). Part used-car salesman, part Romeo con-man, Egan's Max is wired, amoral and on the make. Manic Max persuades his anxious accountant Leopold Bloom, played by a light-footed, easily swayed and increasingly winning Dan De Luca, to embezzle investors by deliberately creating a flop from the get-go. Egan and DeLuca are comic and, well, sorta puppyish adorable, as the shyster-wimp duo, especially in dance numbers wherein both men deliver adroit, magnetic performances. Both these guys can warm up the stage with a soft-shoe routine, even when we're talking Nazis.

Hilarity ensues quickly in the show, directed and choreographed by Courtney Young, implementing Susan Stroman's original direction and choreography, with tight, punchy bravado, supported by rich musical direction by Edward G. Robinson and an eight-member orchestra. Once Leo buys into Max's idea that "you can make more money with a flop than a hit," all Hitler breaks loose. What's nastier and more apt to get booed off the stage than a play that insults every race, religion and sexual orientation? How about a show titled Springtime for Hitler?

All the outrageous characters step into their own in the second act. Neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, played by lily-white seven-footer Greg White in helmet and lederhosen, is all heavy-jawed Neanderthal funny in his flirty gay artiste persona. Cross-dressing director Roger Debris, played by David Engel with a commanding faux-German accent and the best gown-swishing moves I've seen this season, is forced into the title role on opening night. Roger's hip-swiveling "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia, played by svelte, fey Sean Patrick Doyle, steals scenes with graceful ease as he minces his way across the stage to meet his lover and melting audience hearts across all gender boundaries.

Adding a show-stopping female presence to the production is tall, blonde and gorgeous Julia Knitel as Ulla, our stalwart producers' Swedish receptionist-actress who wants to play the "virgin milkmaid to a well-hung stable boy." Knitel gets foot-stomping applause for "When You Got It, Flaunt It."

The 16-member ensemble carries the big numbers forward, including the complicated, in-your-face offensive choreography of goose-stepping kick lines and old ladies shoving walkers. What's not to hiss and boo — and laugh your guts out over?

Scott Davis' sharp set design allows filing cabinets to open up and release a chorus line of dancing girls, replete with bright red swastikas and a kind of Nazi hoedown. John Bartenstein's all-encompassing lighting design, filling the stage with a rainbow effect from violet to aquamarine, bounced off Casa Mañana's silver-starred dome on opening night, while thundering rain commenced outside on the North Texas prairie. Theater sometimes presents these joyful revelations.

Costumes, furnished by Marriott Theatre, are spectacular, especially the glittering, feathered near-naked female costumes for the finale and the perfectly ill-fitting black and white polka-dotted granny dresses worn by the old gals playing drinking games and waiting to drag Max onto the sofa.

Mel Brooks' brand of satire is not for those who get their knickers in a twist over vulgar humor and explicit sexual lines. Not for young kids, plus it runs nearly three hours, including a 20-minute intermission. Still, the show works the way Jonathan Swift's “Modest Proposal” to eat Irish babies works. It's a relief to laugh at evil of Nazi era magnitude, even for a couple of hours. And while you're snickering at these ridiculous buffoons and con men, take a look in the mirror at intermission and think about why you're laughing. That's when satire really explodes into a raging hit.

Max reads in horror a review of Springtime for Hitler: "A satirical masterpiece! Guaranteed to offend! It'll run 20 years!" Uhhuh. Only The Producers is maybe even funnier and scarier today than when it won all those Tony Awards nearly two decades ago. Uncomfortable, yes. Still funny as hell. Thanks For Reading

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Laughing Matters
At Casa Mañana, The Producers remains profane, outrageous and a furiously funny satire.
by Martha Heimberg

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