Over the last few years, we have watched The Mercury Theater start to find its audience. Under the direction of L.Walter Stearns, who has been involved in Chicago’s musical theater scene for many years, we have watched him do some oldies and some new shows. I must say that the current production at The Mercury, Mel Brooks massive hit, “The Producers” truly shows the stuff that Walter and his team are made of. This is to date the best show they have produced! If you are a lover of the comedy of Brooks, and you loved the original movie, there is no doubt in my mind that you will fall in love with this production. “The Producers” with a book by Brooks along with famed Broadway writer, Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Brooks this is the motion picture turned into a musical and is probably the greatest “escape” show one can see. You will forget any problems during this one!
To be honest, when I first saw that Walter was planning to make this part of his 2016/17 season, I was a bit concerned. This is not an easy show. It is written for great comic actors and meant to be a star vehicle. Who would take on the roles made famous by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick? Several years ago, at Marriott Lincolnshire, they attempted to do this show and while the material is hysterical, the chemistry of the cast along with the in-the-round direction did not work as it might have.
The small stage of the Mercury, as it turns out, brought a certain amount of intimacy to a production that is usually big and brassy. This made the comic touches easier to follow and after a slow start (the first five minutes drew very few laughs) the opening night audience found themselves in stitches for 2 hours and fifteen minutes (there is an intermission). Bill Larkin brings his own energy to the role of Max Bialystock. He is a Broadway producer who cannot get his rhythm back and get a hit. When a young “public accountant”, Leo Bloom (Deftly handled by Matt Crowle) comes to do an audit, he says to Max “If a producer has a flop and does his books just right, he could make more money than if he were to have a winner”! Then the magic begins!
The story then revolves around these two men finding the worst play ever, hire the worst director and produce a flop that will make them a fortune. One can see that these two actors have worked together before. The chemistry is amazing. In fact, this entire cast appears to be having as much fun as we are, and yet they stay in character throughout the play. Many of the ensemble players take on a multitude of roles and they are brilliant in each and every one. There is some language in this play (after all, it is Mel Brooks) so please consider the age and knowledge of younger children (and prudes).
If you do not know anything about the show (movie or play), the production they put on that is sure to fail is “Springtime for Hitler”. That should tell you enough. Let’s take a look at the cast. Allison Sill portrays Ulla, the Swedish girl who wants to be an actress and runs their office and more. What a delight and a beauty. Harter Clingman is adorable as Franz Liebkind (the playwright of this German musical), Jason Richards is hysterical as Roger DeBris, the loser director who only wants to “Keep It Gay”. His portrayal of Hitler in the play within the play is fantastic, in every way!. Speaking of fantastic, Sawyer Smith is a show stopper in the role of Carmen Ghia, Rogers lover. Watching him work is worth the price of the ticket. These ar ethe main characters, but the other ensemble members who sing, dance and act in various roles (making costume and wig changes as quickly as one can imagine) are in my opinion the parts of the magic that truly make it magical. Leah Morrow, Ryan Stajmiger, Stephanie Wohar, Travis Austin Wright, Steven Spanopoulis, Melissa Reinerston, Dan Gold, Joe Capstick, Brian Elliott and Katie Hunter. GREAT WORK!
The tech people have also outdone themselves, exceeding the expectations that I had for this intimate space.Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set is amazing. The lighting (Nick Belley), costumes (Frances Maggio), sound (Mike Ross), wigs and hair (Kristen Berger-Nolte and Kevin Bartel), video design and animation (Ross Hoppe), choreography (Brigitte Ditmars) and Musical director (Eugene Dizon) all add to the glory of a show that I expect to see win a few Jeff Awards this year. This is a production you might want to place on your MUST SEE! list.
“The Producers” will continue at The Mercury Theater Chicago, located at 3745 N. Southport through June 26th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $30- $65 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-325-1700 or online at www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Producers”