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NY Theater Reviews

Larry Raben


By David Lefkowitz

The Producers plays Las Vegas; a match to make the mouth water. Hold on. The production falls a little flat, like a two-day old spritz of selzter

"That's it, baby, when you got it, flaunt it, FLAUNT IT!"

A famous phrase - one of zillions, actually -- from The Producers, the 1968 film and 2001 Broadway musical that remain Mel Brooks' most uniquely inspired contribution to American comedy. The line comes at a small but telling moment; has-been theatrical producer Max Bialystock looks through the grime of his window and sees a gorgeous blonde step out of a limo. Rather than react with jealousy or distaste for a lifestyle he can no longer afford, Max revels in the bling, letting us know that if he had the finances, he'd waste no time spending lavishly once more.

A theatergoer approaching The Producers'incarnation in Las Vegas might well have the same hopes for out-and-out glitz. After all, as The Phantom of the Opera and all those Cirque du Soleils demonstrate, money seems to be no object when big shows are brought to The Strip. Given the location and ticket prices, therefore, it's something of a disappointment when "Springtime for Hitler" doesn't boast three dozen chorus girls, or the "Along Came Bialy" number seems to boast fewer little old ladies than there were on Broadway, or that Leo Bloom's decision to join Max's scheme takes place back at his office rather than at the fabled Lincoln Center fountain.

This restrained budgeting has little to do with the show itself, which remains bright, winningly tasteless and funnier than most. Brooks and co-librettist Thomas Meehan obviously worked hard to transform a classic movie into a show that stands on its own as a musical entertainment. Granted, we regret the removal of LSD's "Love Power" and spend much of the first Bialystock/Bloom scene mouthing dialogue we know by heart from the film (and weighing whether one-liners cut out for the sake of momentum were worth sacrificing), but Franz's pigeons are a neat touch, and turning Ulla into a singing, dancing Swedish wonderbabe (rather than a mere sexpot) seems a natural step.

The one unarguable improvement from screen to stage is the creation of a scene showing the soulless hell that is Bloom's workday at Whitehall and Marx. Leo is also shown early on to be a musical-theater fan and wannabe producer, which gives him even more motivation to ditch accounting for the footlights.

As for Vegas versus Broadway, I doubt anyone will miss the now-missing "Guten Tag Hop Clop," especially since, once you get past the dashed expectation that a Nevada Producers will be bigger and glitzier, the show still comes down - as it must -- to Max and Leo. Though energetic and affable, Brad Oscar is no Nathan Lane (and let's not even mention Zero Mostel, to whom Oscar bears a passing resemblance), nor does he evoke the inspiration/desperation that makes Bialy such a sacred monster. (Tony Danza arrives soon to take on the role; he'll undoubtedly bring charm to the part, but manic angst? Hmm.) Better is Larry Raben, who puts across Leo's neuroses sans Matthew Broderick's cartoonishness. The trusty Lee Roy Reams brings his usual panache to Roger, pop-eyed Bill Nolte is a respectable Franz, while Broadway goddess Leigh Zimmerman's unbeatable, triple-threat Ulla could light up ten Vegases.

It's hard to say whether The Producers musical benefits from being trimmed to a single, intermissionless act. It moves quickly but loses too much interstitial comic business. Also, 100 uninterrupted minutes of hard-sell musical theater can actually be more wearying than 130 minutes with a break in the middle. Most of all, if they ever book another top-flight Max, wouldn't you rather spend more time with him than less? A role like that cries out to be flaun