|Keith Schnabel, Isaac Wood and Blake Mazur|
|Schnabel as Hitler with director Ric Roberts second from right|
|Wood, Lexee Longwell and Dakotah Myers|
review by Janet I. Martineau/ photos by Michael Randolph
The devil is in the detail.
We have said that for nigh unto 40 years of reviewing theater.
And the Saginaw Valley State University 50th anniversary production of the Mel Brooks musical "The Producers" is beautifully awash in it.
The show opened Wednesday night to a capacity audience, enticed there perhaps by the much-publicized fact the college had rented the actual Broadway set, props and costumes that helped earn the show 12 Tony Awards back In 2001.
And yes, what a wonderful gesture that a university would so reward its theater department with a budget and confidence in celebration of the school's 50th. Impressive. That set was indeed gorgeous, and the props and costumes ever so rich, keeping the backstage crew hopping cleanly and with darn few glitches.
But what the audience got in addition to that was acting and sight gags awash in detail, detail, detail.
Director Ric Roberts and his 28-member cast have been rehearsing since May, a breathtaking six months, this first musical theater collaboration of the departments of theater and music and easily SVSU's biggest production ever.
Every performance shines with delightful bits of business that make the characters real. The enunciation is crystal clear. The singing and dancing spot on. The energy explodes. Standouts and show stoppers are everywhere.
And yet, it is all kept in marvelous check.
"The Producers" is a farce, a spoof of musical theater, the story of two men seeking to produce the worst-ever musical so they can bilk a million or two. It offends left and right -- homosexuals, actors, old women, Hitler, Swedes, show business. It could so easily go too far over the top. But Roberts and his cast keep it in check.
Dakotah Myers in the Nathan Lane role and Isaac Wood in the Matthew Broderick role as the two producers are funny and charming, with gorgeous signing voices.
David Ryan as the Hitler-loving writer of the bad musical "Springtime for Hitler" nearly steals the show with his roof-top pigeons during "In Old Bavaria" ....but then comes along Keith Schnabel and Blake Mazur as the bad director and his partner, with six others in their employ, in "Keep It Gay"....but then comes along Lexee Longwell as the Swedish bombshell bad actress in "When You Got It, Flaunt It"....but then comes along a chorus of little old ladies and their walkers singing and dancing in "Along Came Bialy."
Watch the detailing in these performances, the energy, the strong voices, the reality of their characterizations despite being weirdo characters.
Schnabel later returns as the singing and dancing Hitler, with a hint of Charlie Chaplin thrown in, in a second scene stealing attempt. Myers shines in the difficult singing soliloquy "Betrayed." And director/tenor Roberts puts himself in the show stopper number "Springtime for Hitler" a la Busby Berkeley.
And the ensemble members supporting them are also richly nuanced in their performances.
Bravo too to Roberts for outstanding choreography, which the cast executes like old pros, and assorted sight gags. And down in the pit, conductor Kevin Simons oversees a 16-member orchestra filled with music department teachers and other area professionals who are stellar as well.
This year is a hallmark one in mid-Michigan theater, one in which companies bit off huge shows to tackle and so far have totally exceeded the expectations of this reviewer.
The Midland Center for the Arts took the badly written "Dracula" and gave it soaring production and acting values.
Pit and Balcony Community Theater delivered a hilarious and technically challenging "Young Frankenstein," another Mel Brooks creation.
SVSU chimed in with this Broadway set, props and costumes birthday gift that delivered acting chops galore. ("The Producers" runs through Sunday.)
Can't wait to see what the Bay City Players deliver next month with the biggie "Les Miserables."