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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008

A Perfect Production

Theater Review

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The core appeal of the now-classic show The Producers is the perennial fascination with its signature showpiece, the outrageous, improbable, addictively appealing key number "Springtime for Hitler"-outrageous because Mel Brooks has so slyly transformed a historic nightmare into a classic guilty pleasure, improbable in that this paean to alleged bad taste is so "tastefully" worked into a sure-fire fun-filled book that audiences eat it up with uncritical delight.

The outstanding 1967 movie has never been so well served: Skylight's unyieldingly exuberant musical production, letter perfect to a fault, containing dance numbers executed with a precision to honor any Broadway musical, rivals the highly touted 2001 stage version and surpasses the grossly overproduced screen version that met only moderate success. Some numbers, such as "Opening Night" and "We Can Do It," set off the show with enough visceral energy to almost make the audience forget what it really came to see.

The familiar story of two con artists who oversubscribe gullible old dowagers into a theatrical project supposedly doomed to failure may raise a few eyebrows amid today's market turmoil, but this lighthearted show never misses a beat as pure entertainment.

An outstanding cast is headed by Bill Theisen, who excels in the Zero Mostel role, followed by his conniving partner, an energetic Brian Vaughn, whose good looks belie the character's shyness, but works well in the romantic bit with the terrifically sexy Valkyrian Molly Rhodes. Jonathan West steals a few scenes as the time-warped author trying to preserve Hitler's glory days, but he is endearingly eccentric enough to appear harmless. The lavishly staged production managed complex scene changes with simple dexterity under the energetic, super-efficient direction of Mark Lococo, whose sense of timing and precision gave the show a needed sense of perpetual motion. This version of The Producers is a gem of a show by any standard.