Keep(ing) It Gay
It’s a two man show as real-life partners Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis strive to be “Producers,” both on stage and behind the scenes
By Donnie Matsuda
There are a lot of firsts with Premiere Productions current revival of The Producers, Mel Brook’s fiercely farcical character comedy about the makings of a fictional pro-Nazi Broadway musical.
This production marks the first time Vista’s Broadway Theatre (housed in two locations in downtown Vista and working under the auspices of Premiere Productions) is producing at the Welk in Escondido and The Producers kicks off their mini-season of three shows in this exciting, new venue. This is also the first time a community theatre in San Diego has dared to tackle a mounting of this massive, monstrosity of a musical. It is a spectacle show that is enough of a budget-buster to drain even the most abundant riches of the most stalwart producer on Broadway. Hence, it is quite remarkable that Vista’s Broadway Theatre owners Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis have stepped up to the impossible task of reviving this outrageous, over-the-top show and they both deserve kudos for their valiant effort. While theirs is far from a perfect rendition, in many ways, their tireless efforts have paid off in a largely likeable (and at times highly entertaining) production.
It seems as if The Producers has been around forever, but it is such a crowd-pleasing, rafter-raising, spectacle show that it will no doubt continue to be revived to all eternity. It of course made its delicious Broadway debut in 2001 with the quintessential comedy tag-team of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane and then embarked on a very well-received national tour in 2002. Since then, it has seen countless reincarnations and revivals (at regional theatres, community theatres, and children’s theatres) and is now being given a durable, if a bit demure, do-over by the small but strong theatre troupe Premiere Productions.
As the producers of the show’s title, Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis are a match made in musical theatre heaven. Hickman is not afraid to tackle the brazen and larger-than-life Bialystock, but he also paints his character with a sweeter, softer side that makes Max a little more endearing and a lot more likeable. To top it off, Hickman boasts some incredibly lush, pitch-perfect pipes that do more than justice to his hilarious patter song “The King of Broadway,” his bright and bouncy “We Can Do It,” and his tour-de-force, eleven o’clock, show-stopping number “Betrayed.” Douglas Davis is perfectly cast as neurotic-accountant-cum-song-and-dance-man Leo Bloom. With dashing good looks, a terrific tenor, and an appealing personality, Davis makes the most of his nebbish role and gives his all in the splashy, tap-happy “I Wanna Be A Producer” and the more subdued, saccharine-sweet “That Face.” Together, Hickman and Davis are two terrific leading men and their long-standing relationship (both on and off the stage) really pays off in their snappy back and forth banter and comfortably shared command of the show.
Also strong is Tracy Ray Reynolds in a slightly more downplayed version of the leggy blonde bombshell with a bad Swedish accent, Ulla. She’s definitely got it (the talent, that is), but doesn’t quite flaunt it with the sass and sultriness that the role often demands. Still, she brings a bright exuberance to every scene she is in and is playful enough in her vampy solo, “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.”
The rest of the supporting characters are a little hit and miss, but they do their best to deliver the show’s broad comedy with as much tongue-in-cheek teasing as they can. Among them, Bob Himlin really knows how to camp it up as flamboyant director Roger DeBris, Conor Tibbs is a hoot as his swishy, flighty assistant Carmen Gia, and Devin Collins gives a spirited performance as Nazi composer Franz Liebkind (though he sadly doesn’t have the acting or vocal chops to convincingly pull off the role). And in the cameo role of Hold Me, Touch Me, Patricia Sullivan is simply adorable and spot on in her mousy rendition of the secretly sex-crazed senior citizen.
Director Randall Hickman (he’s a busy guy) should be commended for his first-rate, fluidly paced staging. He makes judicious use of a proscenium drop-down curtain and smartly ends most scenes early so the actors can finish their shtick in front of the curtain while set changes are occurring behind the curtain. It all keeps the action moving along quite seamlessly and there really aren’t any dead spots in the production’s long-ish three-hour run time.
Hickman’s mostly spry staging is further enhanced by the snappy, tap-happy choreography of Ray Limon. Time and time again, Limon has proven he can mount large and lavish musical numbers on small stages and this show is no exception. While he borrows judiciously from Susan Stroman’s original Broadway choreography, his splashy numbers still pop with plenty of his own creative pizzazz and he manages to delight and dazzle with his walker-dance “Along Came Bialy” and his show-stopping, Nazi-inspired “Springtime for Hitler.”
And Hickman does triple duty here as costume designer while Davis was busy constructing the sets. These two tireless guys also take on a fourth duty as real-life co-producers of the show. Since this is essentially a two-man operation, it is completely understandable that a significant amount of cost- and concept-cutting needed to occur for the show to go on. And for the most part, things have been smartly shaved down in areas that don’t detract terribly from the overall enjoyment of the piece: the somewhat wobbly walls of Max’s office set in Act 1 aren’t given a completely whitewashed version in Act 2, the outrageously over-the-top “Springtime for Hitler” costumes are given more modest recreations here, and the twenty-three piece orchestra is substituted with pre-recorded tracks of music.
Unfortunately, the show’s opening night was fraught with plenty of clumsy transitions, costume malfunctions and sound gaffes, but that’s probably to be expected with a small community theatre’s attempt to mount a show of this magnitude. No doubt these issues will fix themselves in due time and the show will begin to tighten up as it continues on its three-week run. And when it does, it is sure to bring the house down with its two terrifically talented leads, a handful of vibrantly choreographed musical numbers, and a tuneful tale of anti-Semitism and success on the Great White Way.
While it’s not (yet) all that it could be, Premiere Production’s The Producers is still hilarious and entertaining enough and it’s an admirable “first” in what will hopefully be a very prolific partnership between Premiere Productions and the Welk Theatre in Escondido.
Things to know before you go: The Producers presented by Premiere Productions plays at The Welk Theatre through March 25, 2012. Running time is 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 1pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm. Tickets are $36-$47 with the option of adding a pre-show brunch or buffet for an additional cost. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (888) 802-7469 or visit www.welktheatersandiego.com.