Brooks’ famous comedy comes to Atlanta, dazzles

Photo by Austin Foote

The Producers was the first movie written and directed by the famous Mel Brooks, back in 1968. In 2001, he and writer Thomas Meehan co-wrote the book for a stage musical adaptation. Brooks created all the music and lyrics himself. It enjoyed unprecedented success and won every Tony Award it was nominated for, a record-breaking total of twelve. From Jan. 25-31, this musical sensation lit up the stage at Atlanta’s fabulous Fox Theatre. It frequently came close to offending a variety of cultures, as it featured a musical-within-a-musical that was an ode to Hitler that stayed just this side of being crude. And it was hilarious.

“The script is useless without the right actors delivering the lines, and thankfully there was not a weak member in the cast.”

The story revolves around Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Michael McCormick), who has just premiered another flop when the story opens. In his apartment he laments his life as he seduces an elderly woman for money before allowing accountant Leopold Bloom (Stacey Todd Holt) to do the books on his newest failure. Leo then innocently proposes that a producer could make more money from a flop than a hit because nobody cares what happens to the money that makes a terrible show. Max runs with the idea and before you can say “step five,” Max has connived Leo into co-producing the worst musical ever performed on Broadway so they can split the money and retire. Hilarity, of course, ensues.

The script, as expected of Mel Brooks, is incredibly funny. The most impressive aspect of it is that it knows the difference between poking fun at its target and insulting a culture or group of people. It never dips into the latter.

It would have been easy for the four characters that round out the supporting cast to become crass stereotypes. Franz Liebkind (Tom Robbins) as the Nazi screenwriter, Roger De Bris (David De Vries) as the gay director, his assistant Carmen Ghia (Patrick Boyd), and the Swedish actress Ulla (Lara Seibert) all could have been defined merely by their job descriptions. But instead of being caricatures to laugh at, these characters are funny because Brooks and Meehan’s script enhance stereotypical attributes while grounding them as people, not punchlines. For example, Franz is not only an ardent Hitler fanatic, he also has a soft spot for pigeons and a certain cheerful quality about him. If there is any issue with the plot, it is a mysterious recap performed by Max in the middle of the second act. Since it is safe to assume the audience has been watching the entire musical, it seems unnecessary. But this is a minor complaint in a strong script full of memorable jokes and characters.

The script is useless without the right actors delivering the lines, and thankfully there was not a weak member in the cast. The comedic timing was near flawless, and all the characters were portrayed as three dimensional, even the slick Max. Max should be a difficult person to like because he is constantly and unrepentantly scheming to cheat people, but it is nearly impossible not to feel sympathetic for him by the end of the musical because he is played so well, as if there is a layer of desperation due to his desire to be a King of Broadway again. Stacy Todd Holt is the foil for Max as the hysterical and innocent Leopold Bloom. As the emotional core of the pair, one relates to Bloom’s dream of being a Broadway producer.

All in all, the music was catchy, the acting was top notch and the script is impressively earnest and hilarious. The Producers deserves all the accolades thrown at it . It is a must-see for fans of musicals and Mel Brooks in general.