Guest Blog: Daena Schweiger on The Producers
Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good at rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance – Mel Brooks
I remember the first time I saw (and fell in love with) the original movie The Producers starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was shown on regular television as filler until some sports programming began later that day. I was surprised it was being shown. I knew the plot: two men scheming to bilk elderly, amorous women out of their money by producing a certified flop (a feel good musical titled “Springtime for Hitler” **) guaranteed to close the first week. It sounded hilarious. It also didn’t sound like something that would appear on regular television, even if it was a Saturday afternoon. It didn’t matter. They ran it, I watched it, and hummed the music to “Springtime for Hitler” the entire next week. It quickly became one of my favorite Mel Brooks films. Young Frankenstein is still number 1.
**Fun Fact: I know one of the uncredited dancers in the “Springtime for Hitler” musical number in the movie (I worked with her when she did guest directing stints for Opera Omaha in the mid-nineties).
Years later the second incarnation of The Producers, in musical form, took Broadway by storm and was a smashing success for stars Nathan Lane (Max) and Matthew Broderick (Leo). The third incarnation of The Producerscame a few years after the Broadway run. The wildly successful musical took it’s talents to the big screen, and took Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick with it for the ride. I did not see this movie, and that’s okay. Full disclosure – I’m not a fan of movies turning into musicals and then being filmed as a movie musical. As if the original, non-singing movie, doesn’t exist! (My friend who attended the OCP preview night with me said she was not impressed with the Lane / Broderick movie, but had seen the Broadway tour when it came to Omaha a few years back and was eager to see how OCP tackled some scenes).
The musical, I am happy to report, is every bit as funny as the original movie, and in some places, is even more funny than the original film. The invited audience on Thursday reacted as I did – doubled over with laughter from the moment the curtain rose. The humor of Mel Brooks, I think, is timeless – the jokes don’t feel dated to me even if some of the setups are familiar.
Of course, it helps to have a solid understanding of comedy, and more importantly, comedic timing. Jeff Horger (stage director) has assembled an outstanding cast that is more than up to the challenge. Leading the way are two Playhouse veterans and audience favorites – Jim McKain as Max Bialystock and Steve Krambeck as Leo Bloom. They are surrounded by a supporting cast that shines as brightly as the aforementioned leads. Mike Palmreuter, as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, and Zach Kloppenborg, as Carmen Guia, are worth the price of admission. Also worth the price of admission? The dancing pigeons. Yes, you read that right. Dancing pigeons. I haven’t laughed as hard as I did during the song “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” in a long time. A big shout out to Darin Kuehler for that bit of props magic.
Speaking of the artistic team – once again Jim Othuse has provided a sensible, practical set that takes us from Max’s run down, seedy office to outside the Shubert theatre, a rehearsal hall, and a prison. Scene changes were flawless and fast. Melanie Walters provided outstanding choreography, in particular the Act I finale and, of course, “Springtime for Hitler” in Act II. Amanda Fehlner’s costumes were imaginative and fun. And Jim Boggess and his talented musicians in the pit kept nice tempos and pacing throughout.
As an audience member you would be hard pressed to find a flaw in the production. There was no weak link in the cast, crew, or artistic staff. One of the most highly anticipated musicals in Omaha in years will not disappoint you. They say laughter is the best medicine, and as Mel himself stated, “If you bring these people down with comedy they stand no chance.” None of us stood a chance on preview night. We were all felled by laughter. In fact, it left us breathless. And humming its signature song.
Daena Schweiger is a local director and playwright. She also serves as a board member for SNAP! Productions.