Mel Brooks' musical comedy "The Producers" is an equal opportunity offender, against Jews, Germans, Swedes, gays, accountants - and the little old ladies who "reaching the end of their rope still have hope for one more romp in the hay."
The troupe of actors in the current Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre production delivers the over-the-top musical comedy with zeal, energy and talent. They not only expertly sing and dance, they wholeheartedly throw their bodies into the physical comedy. Sunday's audience responded with laughs, guffaws, loud applause and cheers. My husband laughed so hard he cried.
The show features larger-than-life Broadway producer Max Bialistock in the lead and producer-in-training Leo Bloom following - all the way to prison. Actually it's the timid accountant Bloom who comes up with the idea for the scam when he casually comments that a flop Broadway play could earn more money than a successful one, if people invested in it 200 percent. Bialistock pounces on the scheme.
Jeff Seaberg struts into the role of Bialistock with verve. He produced five seasons of the cabaret show "Wigged Out" in Danville plus runs its youth theater. He's starred in many more musicals and comedies and won a Shellie. Luckily for fans of the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre, formerly Pleasanton Playhouse, Seaberg has found his way to its stage. He's a commanding presence and he mesmerizes the audience with his rendition of "Betrayed," performed alone with minimal staging.
Robert Lopez also makes his debut with TVRT, as Leo Bloom, although he's had roles throughout the Bay Area while teaching fourth grade in San Jose. When the faint-hearted Bloom first encounters the bellicose Bialistock he goes into shock and quickly reaches for his blue baby blanket for comfort. He's truly funny, and by the end of the play he's gone from a dreary life under his bookkeeper's green eyeshade to being a producer, a transition onstage he develops with ease.
Once Bialistock and Bloom join forces, they spend a night reading scripts for one that is bound to fail. They pick "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden," and find the writer, Franz Liebkind, on a rooftop feeding his pigeons, dressed in a German helmet and lederhosen. Next they choose the worst director and actors they can find. Meanwhile Bialistock is cozying up to rich little old ladies to earn their investments.
Comedy comes from every corner of this production. The little old ladies all dress identically in blue dresses. They perform a rousing chorus line clicking and waving their walkers like the traditional walking sticks used in tap dancing. When the shapely Swede Ulla, played by Tiffany Davis, applies for a part in the play they hire her as secretary until the play is cast, and Bialistock informs Bloom of a cardinal rule of Broadway: There is always a part for the producer's girlfriend. The costumes for "Springtime" feature gigantic pretzels and beer steins.
This TVRT production is directed by John Maio and produced by Kathleen Breedveld. The artistic staff includes Jo Anne Fosselman (music director), Sean Aloise (vocal director) and Kevin Hammond (choreographer). The live band of 17 plays flawlessly, keeping a perfect balance with the voices in the cast for a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
The rest of the cast is Ben Krantz (Franz Liebkind), Ken Blair (Roger DeBris), and Kevin Aachas (Carmen Ghia). The ensemble includes Morgan Breedveld, Robert Enos, Tom Farris, Mark Flores, Lindsay Garber, Jenna Harris, Melissa Heinrich, Christina Lazo, Rebecca LaFluer, Erin Little, Misty Megia, Josh Millbourne, Tim Nolan, Brian Olkowski, Charles Orlando, Drew Orlando, Bryan Pangilinan, Heidi Schrupp, Amy Sloan, Savannah Stratton, Bob Stratton and Mindy Zuckerman.
Brooks first made the movie "The Producers" in 1968 with actors Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The expanded musical came to Broadway in 2001, ran for 2,502 performances, and won 12 Tony Awards.
It's an adult play. The abundance of swastikas used so lightheartedly is a bit disconcerting but Mel Brooks never did hesitate to be outrageous. Brooks, who is Jewish, is quoted as saying, "If you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance."
"The Producers" opened in Berlin last May at the Admiralspalast to standing ovations.
"Of all the musicals I've seen in my life it's by far the most exciting, the most bizarre and the most manic," said Admiralspalast manager Falk Walter in Spiegel Online.
Local audiences are lucky they have this hilarious offbeat comedy being expertly performed right in their own back yard.
CROOKS TACKLE BROADWAY
What: "The Producers"
Who: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
Where: Bankhead Theatre, 2400 First St., Livermore
When: 8 p.m. Fridays/Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through May 9
Cost: $35 for adults (18-60), $33 for seniors (60-plus), and $25 for juniors (under 18).
Information: www.trivalleyrep.org; telephone 462-2121