Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
(Bill Larkin and Matt Crowle as Bialystock and Bloom. Photo: Brett A. Beiner)
By Rachel Weinberg
As the secretary and wannabe stage actor Ulla sings in THE PRODUCERS, when you got it, flaunt it. And Mercury Theater’s production definitely got it. While the eccentric producer Max Bialystock and neurotic accountant Leo Bloom hope to put together a Broadway flop so they can take the money raised from their “little old lady” backers and run, THE PRODUCERS had me riveted in my seat and awing at the comedic talent on display all the way through. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a musical, and L. Walter Stearns’s direction ensures the actors don’t miss a single potential punchline anywhere in Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s book.
This production is rich with triple threat talents. The cast is rife with expert comedic actors, precise dancers who deliver Brigitte Ditmars’s choreography with grace and poise, and stunning vocalists. All of the ensemble’s harmonies are top-notch, and this cast does justice to every bit of Brooks’s score.
As the titular pair of producers Bialystock and Bloom, Bill Larkin and Matt Crowle sell the “bromance” (for really there is no better word for it than that) at the core of the musical. In the role of the ringleader and veteran Broadway producer Bialystock, Larkin fully commits to the zaniness of his character—and pulls us along for the wild ride with him. His take on Bialystock’s second act solo “Betrayed” is particularly strong—a frenzied number delivered at lightning speed that Larkin also elevates as a moment of stature and sympathy for his character. As the mild-mannered accountant and aspiring Broadway producer, Matt Crowle is perfectly cast. Crowle truly steals the show with his neurotic, over-the-top antics and outsized physicality—it is especially delightful to watch him interact with the small blue security blanket he carries with him at all times. He also bestows a great deal of heart to Bloom, and that’s particularly evident in the number “I Wanna Be A Producer ”in which Crowle completely sells the character’s lifelong dream. Crowle is also an excellent vocalist. In Crowle and Larkin, Stearns has found an outstanding pair of producers, indeed—and audiences will certainly root for these two to succeed in their quest for failure, as it were.
Crowle and Larkin find excellent company in the other players onstage. As quirky director Roger DeBris, Jason Richards fully owns the role from the moment he first appears onstage in Frances Maggio’s exquisite, sequined gown (and the costumes in THE PRODUCERS are decadent delights overall). He spectacularly leads the way in the first act number “Keep It Gay.” And DeBris’s performance in the diegetic second act number “Springtime for Hitler” is just spectacular (even as it made me cringe a bit). As Roger’s incredibly flamboyant assistant, Carmen, Sawyer Smith is equally as strong of a performer—he seems to quite literally sashay across the stage when he walks, a nice touch. And I’ve never heard anyone pronounce the word “Yes” with as much flair as Smith does here (see the show and you’ll understand exactly what I mean). As German playwright Franz Liebkind, Harter Clingman is no less than a comedic singing-and-dancing wonder as he earnestly advocates for his cringeworthy play SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER (indeed, Bialystock and Bloom are not wrong when they proclaim they’ve found the worst play ever). And finally, as Bialystock and Bloom’s Swedish secretary and aspiring actor, Allison Sill gives an inspired performance as Ulla. Not only is Sill a gifted comic actor, but she also has an astonishing vocal range and delivers every note with ease. Sills also has a chance to show off her considerable dancing skills, especially in her cameo as a bedazzled black eagle in “Springtime for Hitler”—it’s a great moment, and Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design for this particular song also adds extra flair to the overall ridiculousness.
Though Bialystock and Bloom are flabbergasted when their awful play becomes a smash Broadway hit, it’s no surprise that Mercury Theater’s PRODUCERS goes right.
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