Review: “The Producers” — Theatre Cedar Rapids

Theatre Cedar Rapids has it and they are flaunting it.

The award-winning Mel Brooks’ musical has come to the newly reopened Iowa Theatre Building in a knee-slapping and thoroughly exciting production directed by Leslie Charipar. To say it is a blast is an understatement; to say it is a superb production might come across as a cliché. It is simply a must-see production that is quite possibly the most fun I’ve had at the theater in quite some time. (And I’ve seen The Producers on Broadway.) It is the biggest and best way to reopen their home and Theatre Cedar Rapids has given it their all, with an end result on stage that pays off.

The musical, which is based off of the 1968 film of the same name, follows washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Scott Schulte) and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Trevor Debth) as they try to pull of a seemingly sure-fire scheme by producing the worst show ever written, Springtime for Hitler by Franz Liebkind (Jason Alberty), and raising more money than is needed. It is the sort of story that can only happen in the theater; a musical with a bit of an odd redemption tale and a happily ever after show business ending. And, like many of Brooks’ creations, the characters are cartoonish versions of stereotypes. In Charipar’s production, they are given heart by the actors portraying them.

Schulte and Debth play off of each other and have an incredible chemistry as the titular duo with magnificent solo performances. Both of them become the character, never seeming to try to imitate Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. They are clearly the driving force of the show and it never slows down.

Alberty, who possesses a beautiful singing voice, hams it up while being a bit charming as Liebkind, prancing around the stage in lederhosen. In costume, it is a delightful caricature of Germans but his performance does make the crazy character a bit more unique. Katie Knutsen manages to be sweet and a bit ditzy as as the sexy Swedish secretary Ulla, while Tim Boyle and Nathan Cooper are magnificently swishy as Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia.

In addition to the main performances, this production features a strong ensemble and various cameos from local personalities ranging from Brucemore executive director Jim Kern to TCR veterans like Cherryl Moon Thomason. Charipar’s production is sprinkled with sight gags, such as a blind violinist wandering from the ensemble during the number “The King of Broadway.” Bret Gothe’s set is of a professional quality with a detailed exterior of the Schubert Theater that comes flying in to smaller pieces to represent the various locations.

The production is a visual feast because of the set and Joni Sackett’s 1950s costumes. TCR’s production is a reminder of the magic of life theater and the potential of community theater to do stunning, professional quality productions. It is certainly the best way to reopen the Iowa Theatre Building.

“The Producers” continues through March 14 at the Iowa Theater Building (102 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids). Tickets range from $20-$25, $15 for students, $12 rush and can be purchased by calling (319) 366-8591 or by visiting theatrecr.org.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I paid for my own ticket for this play.

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