One of the little joys in a lifetime spent seeing theater lies in knowing that unless something goes horribly wrong, the show you intend to see that night will be a good one. From start to finish, Bristol Riverside Theatre’s production of The Producers entertains with superb singing, Steven Casey’s dazzling choreography, and four outstanding performances in the lead roles.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 50 years, in 2001 Mel Brooks adapted his 1967 same-titled smash comedy into a musical that took 12 Tony awards. In The Producers, fading legend Max Bialystock (Danny Rutigliano) tires of groveling for money from old widows. He and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Michael Doherty), concoct a scheme: They could make a fortune overselling shares in a show that’s sure to fail, pocket the money, and flee to Rio.
So they stage Franz Liebkind’s (Fred Inkley) Springtime for Hitler, a show that would offend people of all races and creeds, and what Max calls “the worst play ever written.” Cue the comedy of unintended consequences, written with Brooks’ sharp tongue and memorable melodies, and you’ve got a hit.
At BRT, Rutigliano (who impressed two years ago in their production of Man of La Mancha) storms through his role with the manic, self-consuming energy of a man that can’t catch a break. As the love interest Ulla, Nicole Benoit infects every scene with her long-legged, big-smiled allure (and a set of pipes that shakes the roof). Inkley adds a delightfully ridiculous (and sometimes frightening) performance as a play-writing Nazi raising pigeons on a rooftop in The Village (even the puppets score laughs).
A strong ensemble led by Danny Vaccaro (as flamboyant director Roger De Bris) ramps up the ridiculousness with each new character. Keith Baker’s direction never relents on the humor (much of which is very un-PC since 2001), and the delivery from his leads sent Saturday’s audience into howls of laughter.
But perhaps the subtlest charm stems from Doherty’s performance. Since he graduated UArts in 2010, I’ve watched his talent mature from the Fringe Festival to stages of all sizes in Philadelphia. Seeing him tackle a plum role such as Leo Bloom with his still-present boyish appeal and fill it with his potent vocals added one more layer of enjoyment to a musical that has done nothing but entertain for nearly two decades.
And therein resides the other little joy of a life watching theater. Sometimes you get lost in the magic, the sheer wonder of how – with so many moving parts – a company manages to pull off the spectacle, night after night, eight shows a week, and still astounds with something so enjoyable. You have to, at some point, tip your hat to those producers such as Bialystock forever going broke filling the world with beauty.
Through April 1 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, Pa.
Tickets: Start at $45.