The Producers—back in Chicago

Mel Brooks’ zany musical, based on his movie, returns to Chicago for a six-week run. Anyone who has seen Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows in the ’50s, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, or heard the Grammy Award-winning album, The 2000-Year-Old Man, is familiar with Brooks’ sometimes bizarre sense of humor. The sight gags of burlesque, double entendre and sheer physical energy are the basis of his work. The Producers represents Mel Brooks at his best.

After successful previews in Chicago, garnering rave reviews, the show went to Broadway, sweeping the Tonys in 2001. With Nathan Lane and Matt Broderick in the lead roles, it played to sold-out houses. Brad Oscar plays Max Bialystock in the touring company. As Franz Liebkind in the original cast, he later assumed the role of Max when Lane left the show. Andy Taylor is Leo Bloom, the anxiety-ridden accountant who turns Max’s life around.

Physically, they both resemble Lane and Broderick, and their ability to portray the characters is excellent. In the Oct. 17, 2003 issue of the Chicago Tribune, critic Michael Phillips voiced great negativity concerning Oscar’s performance. He feels Lane made the show a success. Not having seen the Chicago previews, my opinion is based on the production I saw last week. I, too, am a fan of Nathan Lane, and as with all actors, some of his performances were better than others. Often his work seemed patterned on that of Zero Mostel. So much for a different viewpoint.

Broadway in Chicago opened its season with Chicago at the Shubert. New York’s version of Chicago was a disappointment. The orchestra filled two-thirds of the stage, and the black costumes seemed to come directly from Victoria’s Secret. The familiar choreography of Bob Fosse with the tipping of hats somewhat comforted, but it was not OUR Chicago.

Back to The Producers…an immensely enjoyable show. Little old ladies dancing with their walkers, the towering blonde Ulla (Ida Leigh Curtis) speaking a completely mystifying language, dancers and singers in every conceivable role make The Producers everything we want in entertainment.

Playing through Nov. 30 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre, tickets are available by calling Broadway in Chicago at (312) 902-1400 or at all Ticketmaster centers.

Joe Mantello directs another show on Broadway: Wicked, starring Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, the good Witch of Oz, and Idina Menzel as the Wicked Witch. Both actresses compliment Mantello. Menzel says, “… Joe Mantello is a wonderful director who gave us freedom to experiment…” (Playbill article, “Behind the Rainbow” by Sheryl Flatow, October 2003, Vol. 119, Number 10).

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