Mel Brooks’ The Producers has had quite a ride, evolving from cult classic 1968 film to 2001 Broadway monster to its current status as a popular community theater staple. Not bad, given that the show’s primary selling point is tastelessness. This is a show that combines show-stopping musical numbers with fraud, lechery, geriatric sex, dancing Nazis, spinning swastikas and a super-swishy gay Hitler.
Of course, modern American musical theater is all about pushing the boundaries while simultaneously serving audiences who want good singable songs and great big laughs. In the new season-closing production at Sixth Street Playhouse, director Craig Miller walks that line, maintaining just enough Brooksian tastelessness to please fans of big, broad comedy, while using the somewhat overstuffed enterprise as a showcase for a spectrum of local talent, young and old.
The story is essentially the same as in the movie. Unscrupulous Broadway producer Max Bialystock (a strong-voiced Matlock Zumsteg, best known for his local improv troupe the World’s Biggest Comedy Duo) teams up with neurotic bookkeeper Bloom (Jeff Coté, who struggles a bit with the songs but delivers plenty of farce).
Convinced that they can make more money from a flop than a hit, they set out to produce the worst play they can find, settling on a script titled Springtime for Hitler, a loony labor of love by a closeted Nazi pigeon-keeper named Franz Liebkind (a hilariously committed Mark Bradbury). Then there’s the flamboyantly untalented director Roger De Bris (Larry Williams, charmingly offensive as the gayest of gay stereotypes), and the sexy wannabe actress Ulla, played to the bombshell max by April Krautner.
Crammed with theatrical inside-jokes (“I’m the man who invented theater-in-the-square! Nobody gets a good seat!”), the show is a bit overlong, with the actors milking the spaces between lines a bit too often, and the orchestra (under the spirited direction of Janis Dunson Wilson) hitting more than its share of key-challenged notes.
But it’s the joyously naughty energy of the large cast that makes the whole thing work. A bit of tightening would serve the show well, but as The Producers moves into the last three weekends of its five-week run, there’s no denying that it proves, once and for all, that sometimes bad taste can be a good thing.
‘The Producers’ runs Thursday–Sunday through July 15 at Sixth Street Playhouse. 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 8pm Thursday–Saturday, 2pm Sundays, with additional Saturday matinees on June 30, July 7 and July 14. $15–$35. 707.523.4185.