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Comedy insanity, Mel Brooks style

Posted: September 23rd, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Feature, Featured | No Comments

By David Dixon

Who else but Mel Brooks could come up with a tale about the making of “the worst play ever written?” The hit stage adaptation of the 1968 movie, “The Producers,” will be coming to the San Diego Spreckels Theatre.

Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, the show features the combination of irreverent comedy and clever dialogue associated with Brooks’ classic films. Brooks not only adapted the book with Thomas Meehan, but he wrote all the outrageous songs for the farce.

Tony Houck (Courtesy of SDMT)

Tony Houck (Courtesy of SDMT)

Set in 1959 in New York City, a once-celebrated Broadway producer Max Bialystock (John Massey) realizes he can make a lot of money if he helps finance a disastrous theatrical event. With the help of his new assistant, Leo Bloom (University Heights resident Bryan Banville), they decide to invest in a surefire bomb, “Springtime for Hitler.”

Even with his occasionally frightening neurotic behavior, Leo is the closest thing to a sane character in the outrageously satirical story. Banville wants audiences to connect with the sympathetic former accountant.

“Once Leo sings ‘I Wanna be a Producer,’ viewers see the whole tale through Leo’s eyes,” Banville said. “It can be hard to keep the role three-dimensional in the over-the-top reality.”

One of the idiosyncratic men that Leo meets is the assistant/lover of the eccentric director Roger DeBris (Russell Garrett), Carmen Ghia (Normal Heights resident Luke Harvey Jacobs). While the roles of the couple were minor in the film, their parts were expanded for the stage version.

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(l to r) Russell Garrett and Normal Heights actor Luke Harvey Jacobs

Jacobs said the expanded characters reflect modern society.

“In the motion picture, they were written to be made fun of in a loving way,” Jacobs said. “As it shifted into the 2001 staging, there became more of a publicly open gay presence in the arts. The task that Garrett and I have is to flesh out our roles, which is really fun.”

North Park resident Tony Houck plays several roles throughout the wild plot.

“The people I play are outrageous,” he said. “Because there is such an outrageous world, you can have a tap dancing Nazi come onstage and it’s totally fine.”

A physically demanding character that Houck portrays is one of the raunchy old women dancing in the big musical number, “Along Came Bialy.”

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(l to r) John Massey and University Heights actor Bryan Banville

“Everyone, including people that are 6-feet-4, have to be hunched over,” he said. “This happens while we’re doing kicks, flips and tap-dancing with a walker. That for me has been pretty tricky.”

Almost all of Brooks’ big screen adventures include at least one musical number. If he were to convert one for the stage, Houck and Jacobs have their own picks for his next singing and dancing hit. Houck chose “Blazing Saddles” and “Silent Movie.”

“‘Blazing Saddles’ already has the Madeline Khan number, ‘Tired,’ which I’ve sung in drag,” he said. “That would be hilarious. ‘Silent Movie’ would be interesting if Twyla Tharp choreographed the piece.”

Jacobs’ pick was the filmed love letter to Alfred Hitchcock.

“I would love to see ‘High Anxiety: the Musical,’” he said.

Although musical fans most likely will have a great time at “The Producers,” people that don’t typically go to theater might get a lot out of the wild night.

“This is a show that you can bring the guys to,” Houck said. “It’s a good gateway musical.”

The main thing about “The Producers” that Jacobs loves is that the plot is an unabashed laugh riot from start to finish.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-5-02-34-pm“It is so seldom that a musical on this scale is just built and produced for humor’s sake,” he said. “That alone is a reason to see this show.”

Side-splitting lowbrow jokes and tunes make the production a nonstop hoot. SDMT’s rendition seems guaranteed to be a success. Leo and Max are going to continue to live on in infamy.

—A fan of film and theater from a very young age, David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at daviddixon0202@gmail.com.

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