Theatre Review: A Muted Affair


Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system.

The Producers, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, directed by Mark Madam. Produced by Starlight Theatre (Kansas City). First produced 2001. (Seen August 25, 2010.)

From the plastic chairs with cup holders to the singing of the national anthem, Starlight Theatre has a very baseball-like feel. And live theatre, like live baseball, has that chance to give people who don’t normally go the reason those of us do — the draw of being larger than life yet immediate and real.

Unfortunately, their production of The Producers never seems to stretch beyond a TV representation.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I try very hard to not compare versions. Comparing a book to a movie or a movie to a theatre production isn’t fair to either version, as the different mediums have different pluses and minuses.

However, by seeing in the special features of the DVD that the movie version of The Producers was intentionally directed to be as much like the stage version as possible, combined with reading an article that stated the actors who replaced Lane and Broderick on Broadway (and are currently starring in this version at Starlight) were directed to be as much like Lane and Broderick as possible, it’s virtually impossible to not compare this production to the movie that I know and love.

Starlight’s production seemed muted, from the sound system where it felt more like I was eavesdropping on a conversation than listening to a ‘larger-than-life’ production, to a limited dance number for “I Wanna Be a Producer” that’s supposed to be a showstopper but only had five or six chorus girls and an empty stage. The muted quality didn’t get much better with the obviously fake sound effects of Franz Liebkind supposedly falling and breaking his legs or the gunshots (whereby the click of the empty round was actually louder than the gunshot). And with such a heavy emphasis on recorded sound effects, they couldn’t be bothered to use a recording of Mel Brooks’ own voice (as is done in the Broadway version) for the “don’t be stupid, be a smarty — come and join the Nazi party” line?

While Brad Oscar as Max does seem to be channeling Nathan Lane in his performance, Roger Bart seemed more like French Stewart than Matthew Broderick (or even his own interpretation). And director Mark Madama didn’t seem to be too concerned with sight lines, as sitting house right, I was able to see too many things I shouldn’t, from the preparation of the couch gag during “That Face” to people running behind the curtain during “I Wanna Be a Producer”.

The slapstick failed several times, as it was too obvious of fake slaps and punches, and there were a couple of early cues. However, as with the movie, the pigeons and actual “Springtime for Hitler” song, steal the show.

It wasn’t a bad show — it, for the most part, was well acted and the songs were spot on. It’s just that it could’ve been so much more, and I walked away wondering what the big deal about this show is. I was whelmed.

The Producers runs until August 29, 2010. For more information, visit Starlight Theatre’s official website.