I just saw The Producers at the Lower Ossington Theatre. I have so many different sorts of responses, I want to keep them straight.
1. The theatre
2. The play (I know every line of the film, the play is new to me)
3. The performances
Yes it was a packed house in this theatre. Obviously a lot of people know about this fascinating little venue. Lower Ossington Theatre is between Queen & Dundas on Ossington, seating about 150 in a very useful configuration. Imagine seven rows of seats ascending very sharply so that absolutely everyone has a good seat. Now imagine the curtain going up on a really big stage that seems as big as the seating area. The show is loud and confident, singing and dancing right in front of your face no matter where you sit.
And this amazing little theatre lets you bring your beer or wine into the theatre with you.
And they’re doing interesting shows.
I understand that there are two venues inside. Rocky Horror has been produced there, and comes back next week at the same time as they’re offering The Producers: which I saw tonight, Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of his own film. And their website also shows Avenue Q, Once on This Island and Newsies. I suggest you check out the website for more info if you’re curious.
I hadn’t heard about this company from anyone, but simply decided to go see the show because
- I know someone in the show (via good old Facebook)
- I’ve always wanted to see this show
There are some interesting differences between film & play, and guess what, because it’s Mel Brooks he doesn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to make the changes, it’s his property to alter / adapt as he wants. Some people get so incensed by adaptations if they’re not totally faithful which is ridiculous.
Indeed he took tiny characters from his film comprised of a few brilliant lines, etching the character so indelibly in our minds that he had to expand them. Roger de Bris, Carmen Ghia, Ulla the Swedish secretary… And single lines such as ‘one two kick turn” get expanded into songs.
I know some purists likely would object, and that’s their business. But the thing is, the media (film vs stage musical ) are different. LSD (Dick Shawn’s character) in the film simply can’t work in the stage version largely because of the way the opening night unfolds. We no longer get a mass exodus of offended watchers and then a sudden reversal as people discover it’s actually funny; and meanwhile, Max & Leo drink in a bar across the street, believing they are celebrating their triumphant failure. No, it’s quite different in the musical play.
Maybe though, the biggest difference is the times. It’s now 2018, the musical having premiered in 2001 on Broadway, (made into a film musical in 2005), while the original film appeared way back in 1967. I am reminded of Linda & Michael Hutcheon’s 1996 book Opera: Desire, Disease, Death , where they compare the way tuberculosis plays out in Verdi’s opera la traviata in the 1850s vs Puccini’s la boheme from the late 1890s. It may seem like a silly comparison, but one could do a dissertation on the coded differences –for example—gay is signified in 1967 vs 2005, how the sexy blonde Swede appears, and of course, the treatment of the main plot.
Gayness was somewhat forbidden back in 1967. You may recall that Gene Wilder’s version of Leo Bloom is totally shocked to see Roger De Bris in a dress: because cross-dressing wasn’t so mainstream in 1967. By now it’s so solidly established that the gay element is given a much bigger role. Not only do Roger’s team get their own number, but Roger himself takes over the show, replacing LSD as the Hitler we see in the actual presentation of “Springtime for Hitler” in Act II.
I wonder if Brooks himself had second thoughts, in changing the way the Fuhrer is presented, going from wacky Dick Shawn’s bluesey “sieg heils” to Roger’s gayer version.
I was surprised at the other big change, which I hope doesn’t seem to be a spoiler, in a play that’s been out for more than a decade. But the conclusion of the story is substantially different. when Leo Bloom’s neurosis is apparently cured by Ulla, and Rio becomes more important to the plot, and not just a line in a song. I was surprised at how much I loved the play, fixing the parts of the film that are uneven & sophomoric. (for instance nobody tries to blow up a theatre, political as the image might be)
3- the performances
In such an intimate venue there’s no room for BS. If the performance isn’t authentic we’ll know it. Everyone was entertaining, singing and dancing as though this were Hollywood or Broadway, not Ossington Ave. For me the show was especially alive whenever the big chorus numbers happened. The funniest thing in the show is the chorus of old ladies (Bialystock’s posse of blue-haired supporters) singing and dancing with walkers, who also–much younger this time– brought the show to life in the first act when they enlivened Leo’s dream in the middle of the accountant office (a much younger & sexier group of dancers: but of course they’re the same ones we see with walkers). The music coming from music director Mike Ross—however it was created (I can’t tell from the program nor from what I heard) —was always stylish, accurate & tight with the singers & dancers.
Hugh Ritchie has an appealing voice, while taking us through Leo Bloom’s transformation from neurotic to heroic. Shalyn Mcfaul knocked my socks off in the unexpected casting as Franz Liebkind; but why not cast a woman, if she can pull it off? And she did. Benjamin Todd has the biggest toughest role as Max Bialystock, and held the show together, singing wonderfully. Mitchell Court as Roger & Hitler was especially brilliant, in a role that could easily turn into a caricature. Ryan Gordon Taylor’s Carmen and Madison Hayes-Crook’s Ulla were enormously enjoyable.
The Producers continues at The Lower Ossington Theatre until November 11th. For further information click here