Paramount whips up shrewd, sassy treat with irreverent 'The Producers'

  • Leo Bloom (Jake Morrissy), left, and Max Bialystock (Blake Hammond) cook up a scheme to get rich on a Broadway flop in "The Producers" at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

    Leo Bloom (Jake Morrissy), left, and Max Bialystock (Blake Hammond) cook up a scheme to get rich on a Broadway flop in "The Producers" at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

  • Elyse Collier plays Swedish starlet/secretary Ulla in Paramount Theatre's revival of "The Producers."

    Elyse Collier plays Swedish starlet/secretary Ulla in Paramount Theatre's revival of "The Producers." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

 
 

"The Producers" - ★ ★ ★

If the bold, brassy, audaciously irreverent "The Producers" is the musical theater equivalent of an ice cream sundae, its tasty albeit entirely politically incorrect centerpiece "Springtime for Hitler" is the cherry on top.

With sprinkles.

That production number from the musical-within-a-musical is what theatergoers familiar with Mel Brooks' 2001 tuner anticipate the moment anxious accountant and wannabe Broadway impresario Leo Bloom opines that "under the right circumstances, a producer can make more money with a flop than a hit."

In Paramount Theatre's shrewd, snazzy revival, the iconic number exceeds expectations courtesy of Jim Corti's canny direction and sly casting, conductor Tom Vendafreddo's impressive 20-member orchestra and the zealous cast of singer/dancer/comedians.

Adapted by composer/lyricist/writer Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan from Brook's 1968 film comedy, "The Producers" boasts a bouncy, old-school Broadway score with a generous helping of broad, Borscht Circuit humor that leaves no character unscathed.

Accountant Leo Bloom (Jake Morrissy), right, dreams of life as a big-time Broadway producer in director Jim Corti's revival of "The Producers" at Paramount Theatre.
Accountant Leo Bloom (Jake Morrissy), right, dreams of life as a big-time Broadway producer in director Jim Corti's revival of "The Producers" at Paramount Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren
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The show opens with floundering Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Blake Hammond, whose marvelous performance combines spot-on comedic sensibility with a lovely voice). After suffering through yet another flop (a musical version of "Hamlet"), Max is inspired by his nervous, nerdy accountant Leo's remark that a loser of a musical could wind up a moneymaker.

Convinced he can make a killing by producing a bomb, Max partners with Leo (the engaging Jake Morrissy, a Paramount regular whose performance lifts him out of the ensemble and into the spotlight). They snag the rights to the worst musical ever -- "Springtime For Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" -- by nutty, pigeon-obsessed Nazi-sympathizer Franz Liebkind (a brilliantly batty Ron E. Rains). They hire the exceptionally inept, cross-dressing director Roger DeBris (Sean Blake, terrific in a scene-stealing turn), who's accompanied by a coterie of creatives, including devoted personal assistant and life partner Carmen Ghia (the flamboyantly funny Adam Fane).

Roger DeBris (Sean Blake), center, steps into the titular role of "Springtime for Hitler," the tuner producers Max and Leo hope will flop, in the stage adaptation of "The Producers," running through March 17 at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
Roger DeBris (Sean Blake), center, steps into the titular role of "Springtime for Hitler," the tuner producers Max and Leo hope will flop, in the stage adaptation of "The Producers," running through March 17 at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

While Max raises money by servicing oversexed older ladies, Ulla (Chicago area newcomer and primo belter Elyse Collier), a Swedish actress looking for her big break, signs on as the duo's secretary, revving up Leo's previously repressed libido in the process.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Among Corti's signature tweaks is the cleverly reconceived "Along Came Bialy," in which Hammond's Max woos potential female investors on the shady side of 60. Jettisoning the walkers the show's original director/choreographer Susan Stroman featured in the Broadway and film versions, Corti sets the number oceanside in Palm Beach, Florida, and populates it with bejeweled, turbaned, caftan-wearing matrons and hunky lifeguards. The scene has the giddy humor and panache of an Esther Williams "aquamusical."

Ron Rains plays pigeon keeper and Nazi sympathizer Franz Liebkind, author of the worst musical ever, in Paramount Theatre's revival of "The Producers."
Ron Rains plays pigeon keeper and Nazi sympathizer Franz Liebkind, author of the worst musical ever, in Paramount Theatre's revival of "The Producers." - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

For the record, Libertyville native Brenda Didier's joyful choreography -- from the easy grace of the charming "That Face" to the goose-step and tap-inspired Third Reich takeoff -- may have audiences asking "Susan Stroman who?"

But the most memorable moments come courtesy of the jaw-dropping signature number. Blake's triumphant Roger presides over tap-dancing Nazis, glittering showgirls and boys decked out as pretzels and smoked sausages, making the showstopping "Springtime for Hitler" the sweetest treat of all.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• • •

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; through March 17

Tickets: $36-$69

Running time: About 2 hours 45 minutes, including intermission

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For high school and older; references mature subject matter not suitable for younger or sensitive audience members

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