Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 15, 2008

"The Producers"

The Bushnell, Hartford
January 15; runs through Jan. 20
By Bob Smith

Those of you who worry that “THE PRODUCERS” needs star-powered leads to succeed, needn’t fret; the touring production now showing at The Bushnell proves that the material works just fine without a Nathan Lane or Matthew Broderick. The book, music and lyrics, all by Mel Brooks, proudly hearken back to the days when musicals had big songs, big dance numbers and big heart. Of course, it also has Brook’s bawdy humor to keep you rolling in the aisles when you’re not humming the tunes.

Since the show won more Tony awards than any other show in history, there is a good chance you already know the plot. Max Bialystock, a down and out Broadway producer teams up with meek accountant Leo Bloom to stage the worst show in history so that they can pocket the investors’ money and head to Rio.

Brad Nacht, as Max, actually has a number of qualities in greater abundance than Lane, including a stronger singing voice, more imposing physique and better looks. When he sums up the story near the end of the show in “Betrayed” he commands the stage with such physical presence that it feels like he’s singing in your lap. His Max owed more to Zero Mostel, with the heavy shtick toned down and a bit of pathos crossing his face.

Austin Owen, as Leo and Elizabeth Pawlowski as Ulla, each had a chance to bring down the house with his “I Want to be a Producer” and her ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It” and they certainly succeeded. Both were charming and energetic performers. Much credit for the show’s vigor goes to all the ensemble players (female AND male) who played the little old ladies that Max woos for “checkies”.

For this show to be done well, no expense should be spared in the costuming and this production delivers on that requirement. From the dancing girls festooned with sausage, pretzels and beer steins to Ulla’s flowing blue dress, each outfit contributes to the narrative by enhancing a character (See: bawdy humor) or serving as an actual punch line (the shiny $10,000 Chrysler building costume worn by effete director Roger De Bris).

This is fifth version of “THE PRODUCERS” that I have seen; the Broadway version with Lane and Broderick, the Bushnell’s last touring production with Alan Ruck from TV’s “Spin City”, the original movie and the film of the musical. If you haven’t seen any incarnation, then this is a great place to start. This is simply a great show!