Mel Brooks Exposes Taxes & Tricks in Musical Comedy
by Hamilton Nguyen
“The Producers” imagines a Dynamic Duo trying to manipulate IRS rules to make money on a big musical FLOP. A sleazy Broadway producer and his shy accountant put on a a ridiculous and sure-to-fail show praising, of all people, Hitler! But the critics call it “a satirical masterpiece.”
The self-proclaimed “King of Broadway,” Max Bialystock (commanding Edward Hightower) has recently been producing failures. His greed and Broadway trickery trap him. But he turns up an accounting trick that will pay off for failure. Great comic playwright Mel Brooks has us laughing all the way to criminal court!
Greed and lust become Max’s comic downfall, another victim of corrupt capitalism. He convinces his accountant Leo Bloom (charming, funny James M. Jones) to join him in the scam. Every comedy villain needs a silly sidekick.
Bumbling and sheltered Leo gets dragged into Max’s schemes. Jones proves himself King of Nerds as he changes from unhappy accountant to Broadway mogul—a barrel of laughs. Bloom reinvents himself. He refuses to become a CPA: “Certified Public Asshole.”
His declaration reveals the ridiculous life of a financial flunky. Max persuades Leo to chase his dream of being a producer. Bloom charts his journey as he sings “I Wanna Be a Producer,” revealing his life-long frustrations. To make money, though, Leo’s first show with Max must be a fantastic failure, a Ponzi flop! The first time he tries to do something right, he must do it wrong.
Amid this absurd scheme, Bloom falls in love with the beautiful Ulla (Renee DeWeese Moran), a Swedish Nicole Kidman. Blonde bombshell Ulla becomes the producers’ secretary. She tries her best, painting everything in the office, white—including telephone and plants. As Ulla, DeWeese Moran sings and dances with brilliant comic flair. She’s a consummate performer and so much fun!
Max and Leo discover a Hitler-loving terrible playwright named Franz Liebkind (brilliant Keith Pinto), who dedicates himself to his idol in his crazed script “Springtime for Hitler.” With his hilarious obsession, Liebkind tries his best to convert everyone into Nazis. Pinto’s witty, accomplished performance delivers the ultimate ridicule of Nazis, as he prances and dances in German leather shorts. Liebkind dances daintily with his birds Eva and Adolf. Don’t miss Pinto’s master work as a German nutcase.
On opening night of “Springtime,” Franz’s dedication to the arts and Nazism lead to literally breaking his legs—a hoot! Singing “Have You Ever Heard the German Band?” Pinto captures the ridiculousness of political extremism. Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? “The Producers,” a smash hit the world over, exposes the Rat Race we all pursue.
Note:The actor James M. Jones was also once an accountant before returning to acting. He’s an accountant who became an actor, now playing an accountant/producer. Where are the cameras? I feel like I’m getting “Punk’d.”
“The Producers,” a musical within a musical, finds its home in our hearts. Who can resist the chorus of Old Lady investors doing tap-dances with their walkers? Or, the Theater Bro comradery between Max and Leo? We love the brilliant, funny costumes, the lights, the sets. A guaranteed great time! Don’t miss it.
“The Producers” by Mel Brooks, directed by Erica Wyman-Abrahamson, musical direction by Rick Reynolds, choreography by Christopher Childers, at Hillbarn Theatre, Foster City, Caifornia. Info: HillbarnTheatre.org – to May 14, 2023.
Cast: Karen Althoff, Christine Baker, Alyson Chilton, Jesse Cortez, Renee DeWeese Moran, Ashley Faus, Edward Hightower, Mohamed Ismail, David Issel, Tiffany Jianto, James M. Jones, Kayvon Kordestani, John Mannion, Keith Pinto, Reggie Reynolds, Steve Roma, Elana Ron, Joe Steely, David Truong, and Jessica Whittemore.
Banner photo: James M. Jones (Leo) dreams of being a Broadway producer. Photo by Mark Kitaoka