Departments open the curtain for ‘The Producers’

The Departments of Theatre and Music opened its long-anticipated production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” last Wednesday in the Malcolm Field Theatre.

Ever since I was 13, I’ve loved “The Producers.” Though my first experience with the production was with the 2005 film adaptation of Mel Brooks’ deservedly praised Broadway show, my love for it has always existed since then, and only grown stronger after each repeated viewing.

The show itself is one of those rare comedic pieces whose hit/miss ratio is almost entirely for the former. Its speed, its pacing, its timing – from a comedic aspect, personally, it’s one of the finest comedies to come out of Broadway not only recently, but of all-time as well.

So, naturally, when I heard that my beloved campus of Saginaw Valley State University was going to be putting on “The Producers,” while simultaneously coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the university, I immediately anticipated it. I had the opportunity to sit in on both the production’s dress rehearsal on Tuesday evening, as well as the following night for its first show.

Knowing the immense amount of talent that consistently comes out of both the Departments of Theatre and Music, I knew that I was going to get nothing less than a great show.

After spending the past two nights with the show, needless to say, I was not disappointed. The department’s interpretation of the Broadway classic was nothing short of impressive, taking the raw, genuine wit of Brooks’ classic and combining it with an newfound energy all its own.
The positive aspects of the production are too many to count, but I’ll do my best to capture every aspect that made me have such strong reactions to it.

The greatest part about this production is, far and away, the acting. These are just great characters, and to see inspired, enthusiastic students put their own spin on them is a delight to see unfold.

The main performances were expectedly solid – theater junior Dakotah Myers’ take as the slick and slimy Broadway producer Max Bialystock being the most notable.

As with any of the performances, it would’ve been incredibly easy for Myers to take too much inspiration from Nathan Lane’s Tony-winning performance. However, Myers put his own, manic interpretation on the role, seamlessly moving from one punchline to the next.

Theater sophomore Isaac Wood was equally impressive as mild-mannered accountant Leopold Bloom. Wood’s tender, genuine approach goes a long way during both the frantic scenes of the production, as well as in the play’s more somber moments.

The team pairs up to put on the biggest flop in Broadway history, thereby illegally making a fortune through some fancy financial maneuvering. From there on out, the most hilarious of hijinks ensue.

The duo take on the project “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical celebrating the life and spirit of the Adolf Hitler, written by the eccentric Nazi supporter Franz Liebkind, played by theater senior Dave Ryan.

Ryan’s performance made me reminiscent of Kenneth Mars’ take on the character in the original 1968 film, also written by Brooks, and to his credit, it was a highly affective approach. Ryan’s thickly laid-on German accent never let up, allowing the giddy vigor of his performance to pour out.

Bialystock and Bloom soon after consult the help of the flamboyantly homosexual director Roger DeBris, played by theater sophomore Keith Schnabel and his assistant, Carmen Ghia, played by theater junior Blake Mazur.

Schnabel’s performance throughout the production was easily the most energetic, giving each and every line its own saucy, sly brand of liveliness – exactly what the role required. It’s so great I don’t dare spoil his excellent scenes as Adolf Hitler in the second act: They have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Mazur was also wonderful; showcasing what may be his finest work since arriving at Saginaw Valley two years ago. The actor’s softer delivery provided for huge laughs and many opportunities to play off the other members of the cast as well.

And finally, who could leave out the always lovely Lexee Longwell, a theater junior who plays Ulla, the pair’s recently hired receptionist and love interest of Leo Bloom? The actress absolutely dominates every scene she’s in.

Like Ryan, a consistent accent is absolutely necessary for the role to be convincing, which she pulls off with ease, and her delivery, pacing and timing was spot-on 100 percent of the time.
Though the main six performances are definitely worth gushing over on their own merits, this play wouldn’t have been possible without the more than 20 supporting actors and actresses that help move the ensemble scenes along extremely well.

The fine work by these actors absolutely has to be noted – group numbers like “I Wanna Be a Producer” and “Springtime for Hitler” wouldn’t have been possible, all of which were done flawlessly.

From there on out, I could bring up a laundry list of reasons why you need to see this play before it ends this Sunday, Nov. 24.

The straight-from-Broadway sets, the lively choreography, the pitch-perfect orchestra, with great conducting from music professor Kevin Simons, the quick-moving scene changes (and what I’m sure were some of the fastest costume changes in theatre history).

I could go on and on – this was just such a well-constructed interpretation of a great play, deserving of every piece of recognition it receives.

The only setback to an otherwise solid show worth mentioning was the hit-or-miss sound work.
I know, it can’t be easy to put together the sound for a production as elaborate as this, (I’ve been on the technical side of live theater myself), but when everything else is up to a certain level of excellence, it can really kill the momentum when one character or another isn’t able to be heard, or a sound effect doesn’t have the greatest impact that it could.

However, having said that, the sound wasn’t awful – it was just noticeable in places that it really made a difference. And even then, it wasn’t nearly enough to kill the energy coming from all other angles of the production.

Overall, I really do feel that “The Producers” is some sort of a miracle for Saginaw Valley.
In today’s world, where budgets for the arts are being slashed left and right, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a university fully back its theater and music departments with enough financial and emotional support to make something this high-concept happen for the 50th anniversary.

Not only that, but for it to be done so professionally and enthusiastically from all involved… it gives me hope. It gives me hope that we’ll be able to put strength back into the arts once again. It gives me hope that more people continue to come out and see all of the hard work and determination that goes into productions like this.

And most important of all, it gives me hope for what the two departments have coming next. I believe in this production, and so should you.

This entry was posted on Friday, November 22nd, 2013 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.