On Friday night, in order to watch “The Producers”, I had to venture out to North Texas Performing Arts new, expansive arts facility, which is located at the east side of The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano. And I’m glad I did.
“The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of his 1967 film and recipient of a record-setting 12 Tony awards, is an ambitious undertaking for a Repertory Theater in only its second season. But, North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) is nothing if not an ambitious organization. And the result is a surprisingly well-executed, hysterical show that’s not to be missed.
Under the direction of Peg Waldschmidt, “The Producers” exceeded my expectations. Her intelligent staging, design choices, and cast selection lent themselves to a formidable realization of Brooks’ musical.
“The Producers” follows Max Bialystock (Dylan White), a failed Broadway producer, who convinces his nervous, uptight accountant Leo Bloom (Aaron Campbell) to join forces, stage an intentional box-office flop, “Springtime for Hitler,” and abscond with the financial backing. Armed with funds from a bevy of attention-starved old ladies, performance rights from the Bavarian playwright (Jack Grimes), and an outrageous, terrible director (Mike Fulks), this historic flop of a show – one of Brooks’ greatest achievements – is mistaken by the audience for satire and becomes a smash hit. The resulting fallout takes an array of enjoyable hairpin turns before reaching its satisfying finale.
Dylan White as Max Bialystock captures the audience from the opening number and doesn’t let go. His Max combines charm and scheming desperation to great effect. And with a script that demands his constant presence onstage, Mr. White manages to sustain his energy, voice, and presence until the very end.
His partner in crime, the tightly-wound accountant Leo Bloom, is impressively realized by Aaron Campbell. This role requires Mr. Campbell to frequently play the straight-man to White’s Max, which can be a taxing endeavor. Yet, Campbell maintains a charismatic Leo Bloom who is enjoyable to watch throughout.
As the Bavarian ex-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind, Jack Grimes delivers such unexpected and offbeat choices that he turns in one of the more brilliantly hilarious and nuanced performances I’ve seen in quite some time.
Mike Fulks as Roger de Bris, the worst director in New York, commands attention from his first entrance. His over-the-top costumes, notably the lavish, floor-length gown in his first scene, (constructed by Fulks himself) could have stolen the scenes from a less magnetic performer. His strong, imminently watchable stage presence, however, keeps this from happening. Roger and his “common law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Sean Cohn) make an enjoyable, flamboyant, comic duo.
Ulla, a buxom Swedish actress hired by Max and Leo to be their “secretary-slash-receptionist,” is portrayed by Sarah Boone and Haven Isom in alternating performances. Haven Isom performed the role on Friday night with requisite coy sexiness and ditziness. But in an interesting and thoroughly refreshing twist, this Ulla still seems to retain much of the power in the relationship dynamic.
Caitlin Galloway choreographed the show with an effectiveness and precision the cast executes well. With every inch of the stage being utilized, the performers maintained laser focus without appearing hesitant or self-aware. Their attention to the space serves them well, since one false move in either direction would launch some poor soul into Dillard’s.
Musicals containing multiple ensemble numbers tend to highlight cast members either going through the motions or – seemingly – auditioning for their next starring role. NTPA’s “The Producers” is blessedly lacking in both.
The sets, lights, sound, and costumes are effectively designed. Transitions throughout the show remain well-coordinated and fluid. The decision to mic performers is understandable, though potentially dicey. That decision generally pays off in this production. A few glitches opening night rendered some rapid-fire banter between Max and Leo unintelligible and Franz’s opening song, with his already strong, resonant voice, unbearably loud.
The North Texas Performing Arts Repertory Theatre set a high bar for itself with “The Producers”. The show was one I feel sure they will match in the future, and I look forward to many return trips.
This performance isn’t ideal for the easily offended. But, the easily offended probably stopped reading at “Mel Brooks.”
If you’re looking for some quality theater and guaranteed laughs, do yourself a favor and attend a performance of The Producers during its brief run.
NTPA’s “The Producers”
Due to mature content, this show is recommended for those 13 years old and older.
Performances: June 22-30 at North Texas Performing Arts – Plano
Purchase tickets: https://northtexasperformingarts.org/tickets/repertory-theatre-tickets/
The Shops at Willow Bend, Chapel Hill Entrance, 2nd Floor
6121 W. Park Blvd. Ste. B216