PROVIDENCE – Mel Brooks’ wacky comedy “The Producers” has been around since 1967, first in a movie, which was done again in 2005, and in a 2001 stage musical. In that time, the story, or at least the gist of it, has become widely known.
So if we know where the laughs are and what’s going to happen, why see the iteration now being performed by The Players at the Barker Playhouse?
Because it’s hilarious. Not only do Brooks’ politically incorrect jokes hold up, but the Players’ cast is excellent. So is the work of the five musicians who play the score.
Director Christopher Margadonna has an affinity for Brooks’ broad comedy, but he also has an eye for detail that means every actor always is engaged and reacting to what’s happening on stage. Good comedy takes serious planning, and Margadonna has done his homework.
The story centers on Max Bialystock, a once successful Broadway producer who has hit a low point in his career. He’s desperate for another hit until Leo Bloom, his accountant, points out he could get richer by producing a flop. Bloom has his own fantasies about being a theater producer himself, so when Bialystock proposes they work together, he’s on board, despite the fact that taking risks generally are not in his nature.
The pair, one with overblown self-esteem and the other angst-ridden, set out to find a terrible play and a bad director. Meeting those criteria are German Franz Liebkind’s patently offensive opus “Springtime for Hitler,” and the cross-dressing and notoriously untalented director Roger DeBris.
A casting call turns up one gorgeous Swede, Ulla, and even though there isn’t a part for her, they hire her as their secretary/receptionist, always verbalized as “secretary-slash-receptionist.” Her accent and her physical attributes become running jokes.
Brooks’ comedic stew goes pretty much over the top with slapstick, sight-gags and funny circumstances, and Margadonna plus a cast and crew, which he says number more than 50, embrace it all. Six talented actors play the main roles, but an equally talented ensemble takes over multiple small parts that provide their own share of laughter.
John K. McElroy II makes his Max Bialystock’s arrogance – and his occasional resignation -- sources of much humor. Anthony DeRose as the director, DeBris, channels his drag persona, Jacqueline DiMera, into a funny parody of an affected “artiste.” Speaking of channeling, Ryan Livingston plays the wonderfully named Carmen Ghia, the director’s assistant, as a humorously exaggerated Elton John, while Dalita Getzoyan as Ulla is funny with her wide-eyed naiveté.
We especially like the way Tyler Rebello as mousey accountant Leo Bloom and Ian Hudgins as Teutonic playwright Franz Liebkind work all kinds of comedy into their portrayals: slapstick in one moment, ironic or deadpan in the next. Their physicality is spot-on as well, particularly Franz’ joy in performing his native dance, “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop.”
All six portrayals are fun, and all six actors can sing, with the ensemble adding strong choral work. Joseph A. Carvalho is the music director and pianist, leading a cohesive ensemble of reeds, violin, trumpet and drums.
Even if you know the play or one of the movies, this production reinvents the laughs you remember and brings back the many you’ve forgotten. Perhaps one of the best endorsements comes from a friend who admittedly is not a Mel Brooks fan but calls this “Producers” wonderful.
Six performances of “The Producers” are left: Oct. 11-13 and 18-20 at the Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit St. Curtain is Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students with valid ID, and are available by phone at (401) 273-0590 or on the website playersri.org. Audiences are invited to stay after performances, except for the closing on Oct. 20, for refreshments and to meet the cast.