CAST OF “THE PRODUCERS” now on stage at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove through Oct. 21 (OMP photo).
By Thom deMartino
It gives new meaning to the old adage, “It’s so bad, it’s good.”
“The Producers” recently had its opening gala at Garden Grove’s Gem Theater (with a rousing introduction by One More Productions co-founder, director and star-at-large Nicole Cassesso) – and out of the gate, looks to be another in a long line of stellar shows by the local troupe.
OMP Director and co-founder Damien Lorton takes a rare turn upon the stage, starring as Max Bialystock, the former “King of Broadway” who’s newest production “Funny Boy” has crashed and burned, having opened and closed the same night amidst an abysmal audience response. It’s the latest in a series of big-budget flops for the producer, who longs for the heady days of his successes, when he didn’t have to wrangle financial backing by acting as role-play boy-toy for little old ladies of means.
But along comes neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Alex Bodrero) to audit Max’s books – also confiding that he’s been a fan of the producer’s work since he was a boy, and has dreams of being a producer himself. Leo also stumbles across an interesting detail in his audit: that under certain circumstances, more profit could be made from a Broadway flop than a successful show …
And so the wheels start turning, in Max’s greedy little mind …
But those right conditions must be fulfilled: find the worst director, the worst actors, and of course, the worst play – one that will universally offend all audiences. After an exhaustive search, the duo find it in the form of “Springtime For Hitler,” courtesy of Third Reich superfan Franz Liebkind (Chris Harper): the two then approach the flamboyant director Roger De Bris (Robert Edward) and his partner Carmen Ghia (Peter Crisafulli), who initially decline because the show isn’t “gay” enough – but are soon persuaded by the potential of a Tony award.
DAMIEN LORTON and Alex Bordero star as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in “The Producers.”
Finally, the show’s ingénue appears in the voluptuous form of Swedish actress and bombshell Ulla (Claire Perry) who auditions for the smitten pair, who give her the position of secretary/receptionist: while Max begins working his randy spinster investors to raise capitol for themselves … Er, for the show, that is.
The pieces are in place, the show is coming together, and nothing can go wrong – or right, as it were…
Those regulars to the Gem Theater’s offerings know the level of quality of the productions staged by the OMP troupe, but this is very possibly their finest (and funniest) of the year (two alumni of one of the Gem’s raucous comedies this year, “Bullets Over Broadway” figure prominently in “Producers,” in fact.) The choreography will have the audience enraptured … keep an eye out for the walkers, you’ll know it when you see it: and the live orchestra overshadows the show, literally – placed on a platform directly above the stage action, even sometimes interacting with the ensemble.
Every single player, from Harper’s comic Nazi sympathizer-turned-spirited playwright Franz, to Perry’s playful, seductive, yet vaguely innocent Ulla, to Edward and Crisafulli’s precocious De Bris and Ghia — whose characters could be over-the-top caricature, yet come across as lovely, engaging, and passionate about their art – inhabit and breathe comic authenticity into their roles … But it’s Bodrero and Lorton who truly knock it out of the park.
Bodrero’s Leo Bloom has vague shades of his recent neurotic “Bullets” scribe, but is considerably more fully realized — with his errant dreams of being a Broadway producer that his new friend and partner inspires him to grab and make his own. Tunes like “I Wanna Be A Producer.” “We Can Do It” and “That Face” showcase both his acting and considerable vocal talents.
Lorton though … absolutely owns the role of Max Bialystock. After seeing this show, some audience members might ask themselves why they so rarely see him upon the stage, versus behind the scenes as director of so many of the Gem’s productions. His comic timing and pacing is sublime, the breaking of the fourth wall and periodic meta references are inspired (somebody get that man a cocktail!) and his song-and-dance is on par with any player whom audiences have seen strut across that stage.
It’s a masterpiece of slapstick and satire, with phenomenal staging and performances by some of the best actors that the Gem has to offer. If there is a must-see in this 2018 season from One More Productions, “The Producers” is indubitably the one to watch.
“The Producers”, Damien Lorton, Alex Bodrero and Claire Perry star in this comic tale of Broadway dreams and fraudulent financial gains. Playing through Oct. 21 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for ticketing information. Some adult language and subjects.