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American Music Stage The Producers

By • Oct 19th, 2008 • Category: Reviews

Who doesn’t love The Producers? Well, ok, I guess those who easily offend probably aren’t too fond of it, or anything else Mel Brooks does. But if you’re a fan, you know the genius of this work. The movie was a hit in the 1960s, and when Mel Brooks created a musical in 2000 (starring the indomitable duo of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick), it was a Broadway smash that ran for six years.

American Music Stage is a non-profit professional theatre housed on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College. The space is wonderful, and they’ve made the most of it for this production with extravagant sets (Phil Charwood), spot on musical direction (Rosemary Dyer) and beautiful costumes (Shannon Martin).

The plot of The Producers is simple: a has-been Broadway director, Max Bialystock (Dino Coppa) teams up with accountant/wannabe producer Leo Bloom (Jack Stein) and decides to produce a guaranteed flop of a musical. This way they can request funding for a lavish show, let it close after a few days, and pocket the unspent proceeds. They find their winner in a show entitled “Springtime for Hitler”…yeah. Bound to tank, right? As they soon find out, not exactly.

Zipping along the route to producing the worst show known to man, they recruit a ditzy blonde bombshell Ulla + six other first names as their secretary/receptionist, Roger the terrible director and his “common law assistant”, Carmen, and of course, Franz Liebkind, the playwright of Springtime for Hitler.

Despite being an enjoyable performance, it was not without its problems. In a show that plays outrageous racism, anti-Semitism, and bawdiness for laughs, there can’t be wavering dedication to pushing the envelope.

Coppa and Stein never quite hit their strides as Max and Leo. Both were talented in their own right, singing adequately, but neither seemed to own their roles. There were missed opportunities to have the audiences in stitches with the brilliant material provided within the script. Coppa seemed muted last night, with only hints of the boisterous personality coming through at certain times. He had a few moments of pure gold in “Betrayed” and “Along Came Bialy.” Stein portrayed the role of the simpering pencil-pusher without really finding a voice. He is, however, a surprisingly agile dancer. His stand out scene came during “I Wanna Be a Producer.”

Both roles need to be larger than life. Regrettably, they seemed more comfortable as part of the talented company rather than as leading men.

They played nicely off each other, Ulla & Franz during smaller group scenes. One of the best moments of the entire show was during “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop.”

There were a few sound design issues. Although everyone had body mics, the sound wasn’t balanced and the lead singers were barely audible during the group numbers. Some of the louder dialogue exchanges and physical comedy resulted in popping sounds and blasting through the speakers.

Ashley Edmiston was a welcome presence as Ulla. She played the voluptuous Swede with bubbly charm and graceful dancing, and channeled both siren Marilyn Monroe and the comedic ridiculousness of Barbara Jean from the sitcom Reba.

Standouts included Martin Bestimt as Roger and Tim King as Carmen. Their scenes were laugh out loud funny, and creative despite the temptation to become clichéd. Bestimt especially was a phenomenal vocalist. Tory Shaw as playwright Franz Liebkind was hilarious. He never broke from his dedication to the role, so sincere in his depiction as a Hitler loyalist that he became almost unbelievably funny.

All the performers in cameo roles gave 110%, but Lynn Simmons, Matthew S. Schwartz and Ivan Davila deserve special mention for their fantastic portrayals.

AMS did a lot of things right with this show. Their sets were simply awesome. From the structured Broadway theatre on stage right that came equipped with a light up marquee to the detailed backdrops, they continued to wow with full structures flown in (Max’s office, Leo’s accounting firm, a director’s mansion, and a full staircase set for the play within a play) and then little details like the pigeon coop and jail cell that were just as well executed as the rest.

The 14 piece orchestra was wonderful, handling the challenging and dynamic score easily. The conductor (Scott Richards) listened to the vocalists and followed them admirably, never allowing the musicians to overpower the performers.

Knowing that the dance aspect of the show was important, AMS enlisted seasoned choreographer Raynor van der Werwe, who in turn recruited dancers from ETAP, her local studio. The show’s ensemble handled movement well, but they left the true dancing to the trained dancers. Number after number, they thrilled the audience with their clever and intricate steps and gorgeous costumes, and gave the show an icing on top of an already decadent cake.

The ensemble was infused with animation and vitality, with enthusiastic vocals and tightly executed scenes. Even during set changes they moved like a well-oiled machine.

By and large, director Steve West has done a tremendous job with this complicated show. He’s been innovative, and has delivered a truly entertaining production. The only major flaw? The supporting players and ensemble were actually shining just a bit brighter than its stars.

Parking at the Annandale campus is a bit tricky. Remember to park in their Special Events area: at $1 per hour to park, it’s a bit steep but part of the agreement AMS has with their space. Tickets at $22 makes for an expensive but worthwhile evening at the theatre. Catch the final performances through October 26th. Further info can be found at AmericanMusicStage.com.

Reviewed October 17, 2008.

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