May 7, 2009

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Review: Actorsingers produces The Producers
Community company pulls off Mel Brooks’ musical
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

A top reason to go see the Actorsingers’ presentation of Mel Brooks’ The Producers is that they have a cast full of strong singers.

It’s a community company, but this was not like going to an amateur play to be supportive and then wincing while your neighbors fail to hit the right notes. The only wincing opening night, May 1, was due to a few scattered and forgivable microphone or sound system issues. Overall, the Actorsingers knew what they were doing, and did it with gusto and confidence.

Craig Howard, of Bedford, Mass., starred as Max Bialystock. In his debut with Actorsingers, a Nashua company which started in 1955, Howard led with strong solos and quick pacing. Michael Coppola played accountant Leo Bloom, another strong singer.

The second reason to see The Producers is the staging — and I’ll lump just about everything else in this category. The pinnacle is their “Springtime for Hitler” number. Actorsingers outdid themselves with lighting, costumes, choreography, sets and performance in the scene. They even float a giant mirror-like panel over the dancers while they form a human rotating swastika.

I should probably take this opportunity to note, for those who haven’t seen the 1968 or 2005 film or a professional stage version, that this is a musical comedy spectacular about a failing Broadway producer with plenty of Mel Brooks-style humor. He’s known for films like History of the World, Part I, Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs. The Producers is an “equal-opportunity offender.” It’s filled with dirty jokes and lines. One of the little old ladies Max sleeps with to gather investment money wants to play “dirty games” like “virginal milkmaid and the well-hung stable boy.”

The Producers works for probably several reasons including that it’s a show about putting on a show and characters are meant to be over the top. Leo strokes the remnant of a baby’s blanket in farcical hysterics, with the line “Nobody touches my blue blanket.” People singing to each other seems somewhat less odd in a show about putting on a show, yet Mel Brooks doesn’t really let a song and dance number go by without it being somewhat — or terrifically — absurd.

The terrific absurdity meant there were some scenes I just couldn’t look away from — like when we are introduced to the Nazi playwright or the flaming director. Stuart Harmon kills during “Keep it Gay” as Broadway director Roger DeBris with his harem of dancing production staff and “common law assistant” Carmen Ghia, played by Josh Dennis. Harmon has a long list of credits around the area, including recently playing Franz Liebkind in a professional production of The Producers at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. With the Actorsingers, Dan Desmarais played Franz Liebkind, pigeon-loving neo-Nazi and author of Springtime for Hitler. He embraced the insanity of the character.

John McAllister’s set designs were suitably impressive, particularly that “Springtime for Hitler” set and Leo’s sparse, oppressive accounting office. Producer Silvia Harper said a large sign with Leo Bloom’s name in lights and projected show signs at the end came from The Palace.

The Actorsingers’ program includes a massive list of crew and production credits, including pigeon maker (Alene Bonner). Longtime Actorsinger Kathy Lovering directs. Valerie Psoinos choreographed, and Judy Hayward is the music director and orchestra conductor.

There are two more chances to see the show (and plenty of space) at Keefe Auditorium in Nashua, which seats about 1,200. — Heidi Masek


If you go
What: Mel Brooks’ The Producers, presented by Actorsingers
Where: Edmund Keefe Auditorium, 117 Elm St., Nashua, at Elm Street Middle School
When: Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $18 for adults, $15 for seniors or students (Recommended for mature audiences.)
Contact: www.actorsingers.org or 320-1870. Group rates available.

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