I get this text message from a buddy of mine, goes by the name of Jay Brew- he’s like, “Were you going to see The Producers?” and I’m pretty sure he means the production at the Western Stage over here in Salinas. And I’m like, “Hey, honey- should I go check out the Producers at the Western Stage” and the wife is like, “How much?” So I ask- and I get a decent price quoted and so I’m off to the see the show on closing night.
My familiarity with the source material sort of ends with my exposure to the film that features Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in the title roles of Mel Brooks classic comedy. To be frank, I tend to flat out avoid anything with the name Matthew Broderick becoming associated with it because I am “not a fan” of the actor. So the production I saw would not be bringing in the cool cat beatnick who falls into the role of Hitler, the ex-Nazi officer would not be played in quite the same way, and there promised to be many more musical numbers than I was actually expecting in this production from the Western Stage. And as this would also be their closing night, I am sorry to say that my thoughts on the show will not act as a recommendation to my faceless readers. It may, however, come off as a teasing thumb to the nose for those who missed the productions run because I can be a bit of a braggart.
Just a bit.
The title characters of the show are Max and Leo, respectively. Max is a conniving rogue bilking little old ladies out of their savings through a combination of selling a percentage of his consistently bombing Broadway shows and his own “amorous attentions”. He’s barely making ends meet and he laments a once promising future wasted on a series of poor decisions- when Leo walks into his life. Leo Cortez takes an iconic character first made famous by Zero Mostel and takes ownership with a touch of the playful imp. As I never saw the other version, I’m uncertain how much of the performance may have been influenced by Nathan Lane but I really enjoyed this actor’s ability to offer an occasional nod to the audience and a little breaking of the fourth wall for comedic effect.
The second half of the title characters is a nervous milquetoast consistently browbeaten to submission by a thankless job and unfulfilled dreams. Leo is played to full hilt by Tim Marquette, who manages to spurts of manic energy while remain stoop-shouldered and hesitant throughout each confrontation.
When Leo casually remarks on the idea that one could conceivably make more money from an intentional flop that than an actual hit, the horses are off and the race begins! The pair try to secure the rights to the worst play they’ve read, the talents of the worst director they can find, and proceed to break one theatrical taboo after another in an attempt to make “Springtime for Hitler” the worst show in town. The pair plunge through several musical misadventures with slapstick effect; meeting with the aging Nazi playwright to take the Sigfried Oath and trying to convince a gaudy Broadway Director and his crew to tackle their first “Historic” epic. Then they meet Una ( played by always hilarious Mindy Whitfield), the blonde bombshell from Sweden, who uses her assets to convince the pair to cast her in the ill-fated producted.
The play was every bit as funny as you would expect from a Mel Brooks production with plenty of gags and the rousing apex of “Springtime for Hitler” number that truly carries with it a sense of the absolutely ridiculous.
PS: While this may seem a little self-serving and carries a little bit of nepotism, it was really great to get a chance to see Allyson Bojorquez in several ensemble roles. It was her performance several years ago in the Paper Wing show of “Repo! The Genetic Opera” that inspired me to pursue an interest in theater over the following years and I only had a brief opportunity to work with her on Remo D’s “Manor of Mayhem” television show. It's great to see her again on stage.