By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Mel Brooks' The Producers is the gift that keeps on giving. First there's the original 1968 film, a nearly perfect 88 minutes of comedy. Its two leads, Zero Mostel, as slimy Broadway impresario Max Bialystock, and Gene Wilder, as wobbly-kneed accountant Leo Bloom, never did better work. It's not a musical, but in every scene the two actors, along with the late, great Dick Shawn as the beatnik cast as Adolf Hitler, seem to be dancing on their toes from the sheer joy of working with Brooks' hilarious material.
Then there's the stage musical called The Producers, nearly three times longer than the movie and not half so entertaining. The show swept the 2001 Tony Awards. Now after crisscrossing flyover country for a couple of years, a road tour finally has arrived at the Music Hall at Fair Park. It's a disappointment. Maybe the company's tired (Dallas is the tour's penultimate stop in the states), maybe we trusted too much in the hype, but the show just isn't the wowee-zowee, rolling-in-the-aisles theatrical event longtime fans of the movie have been hoping for.
All of Brooks' best lines from the film are still in it, of course--"Walk this way, please"--but the funny bits keep getting socked in the puss by the 19 songs (by Brooks and collaborator Thomas Meehan), dozens of scene switches, frenetic dance numbers featuring legs-for-days chorines, the flapping of swastika'd puppet pigeons and the tap dancing of a flying squad of little old ladies powered by aluminum walkers. Oy, such a headache it gives. (The Music Hall sound system may have gotten an expensive overhaul, but it's still wildly uneven and, in the orchestra seats, close to deafening.)
It is also painful to watch the pair of "Who are they again?" guys playing Max and Leo trying desperately to live up to the now-legendary performances of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who earned standing O's and rave reviews in the Broadway production. The Producers, it turns out, is a star-dependent vehicle. Box office fell off sharply when Lane and Broderick bowed out of the Broadway show and picked up again only when they briefly revisited it to prepare for their starring roles in Brooks' second movie version, which just wrapped a few weeks ago. If that's a hit, look for The Producers, the high-fiber breakfast cereal.
Instead of Lane and Broderick, we hinterlanders get Bob Amaral and Andy Taylor, a Max and Leo of low energy and no chemistry. In bigger-than-life characters, they give smaller-than-life performances. Amaral tries some of Jackie Gleason's away-we-go swagger as Max, and he throws in the occasional Mostel-ian jut of the chin, but in his opening number, "The King of Broadway," he's a worn-out court jester going through the motions. He starts the show with a yawn instead of a bellow. Maybe a cold made him draggy and his voice ragged on opening night, but Amaral clearly wasn't in tiptop shape. In what's supposed to be a showstopping recap of the entire plot, Max's Act 2 patter song "Betrayed," Amaral was out of gas, panting and sweating so heavily he looked like he was in cardiac arrest.
Then there's Leo, the shemevdik one whom Max entreats to join him in a scheme to defraud geriatric investors by producing the world's worst musical, Springtime for Hitler (still the funniest three-word phrase Mel Brooks ever put on paper, screen or stage). As Leo, Andy Taylor has goyishe looks and rabbity rhythms. He sings OK, dances well enough, but he's a cold knish when he needs to be spicy kreplach.
Only with the entrance of cross-dressing director Roger De Bris--played with Billy De Wolf's comic brio by the marvelous Stuart Marland--does this Producers begin to look, sound and feel like a Broadway hit. And as Roger's tres fey "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia, Wichita Falls native Rich Affannato almost swishes away with the entire show.
One sequence goes the movie one better. When the curtain finally goes up on Springtime for Hitler, featuring a jaw-droppingly tasteless and wonderfully funny array of chorus boys decked out in skintight SS costumes, and bosomy frauleinsbedecked in enormous pretzels and oversized sausages, the show-within-the-show expands into the glittery spectacle it couldn't be on screen. Brooks and director-choreographer Susan Stroman work in send-ups of Hello, Dolly!, A Chorus Line and Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall.
Unfortunately, there's another half-hour to go after that, including three versions of the song "Prisoners of Love." The audience and the exhausted cast finally get paroled a little before 11.
Told in nonlinear fashion, Betrayal begins at the end of Jerry and Emma's seven-year fling. They haven't slept together in two years, but she's had the urge to see him again after finally walking out on Robert, who, it turns out, had known about the couple's trysts for a long time.