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Opening its 61st season with a highly popular contemporary musical with good casting has paid off for California Musical Theatre’s Music Circus.
“The Producers,” which opened Tuesday night, involves a failed Broadway producer whose most recent show closed on opening night. A passing remark by the low level accountant sent in to audit the books puts the plot in motion. If the producer would have a guaranteed flop, they could bank the investment, close the show and keep the money. They set out to find the worst play, a lousy director and terrible actors. Many complications and much humor ensue, along with lots of great songs and dancing.
“The Producers: the new Mel Brooks Musical,” while being a contemporary show, is based on much earlier material. The 1968 movie, “The Producers,” was Brooks’ first feature film. He developed it into the musical that opened in 2001. According to reports, this was done at the urging of his wife Anne Bancroft and music and movie mogul David Geffen.
The show won a record 12 Tony Awards along with a slew of other theatrical awards. This, along with the casting of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the lead roles, made “The Producers” one of the all-time hottest tickets on Broadway. During the first run, it took in a record single day ticket sales of over $3 million. When Lane and Broderick reprised their roles later in the run, the show broke that record with a $3.5 million single day sales.
It was not the star casting alone that made the show so popular. The play by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan is both endearing and very funny. What else would you expect from Brooks?
What is surprising is how good the music is. Brooks’ music works very well for the action. His lyrics run from poignant to hysterical.
CMT has done their usual first-rate job on casting. Broadway veteran and Music Circus alumni Bob Amaral plays Max Bialystock, the failed producer. This is the character closest to the real Mel Brooks and Amaral fits the role well.
Amaral is matched well with Matt Loehr as Leo Bloom, the milquetoast accountant. Loehr, another Broadway veteran - including another role in “The Producers,” has also appeared in several Music Circus productions. He is very good at the physical comedy required for the role. Loehr has a beautiful voice and is featured in several of Brooks’ best songs.
(Image by: Charr Crail)
Very popular Music Circus actor Gary Beach plays the role of Roger DeBris, the director, a role he originated on Broadway and performed in the movie version of “The Producers.” To say that Roger DeBris is a flaming queen with a huge ego is a major understatement. The audience ate it up.
(Image by: Charr Crail)
Carmen Ghia, Roger’s assistant and lover, is played with equal aplomb by Michael Paternostro. In addition to performing on Broadway in several tours and regionally, Paternostro has performed locally in the Music Circus production of “Funny Girl” and in “Suds” at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret. Paternostro’s Carmen Ghia was another scene stealer.
The audience went crazy for Bill Nolte as Franz Liebkind, the not-so-closeted Nazi playwright and pigeon fancier. Nolte returns to the Music Circus after a long absence. He last appeared in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1996.
(Image by: Charr Crail ) Sarah Cornell is well cast as Ulla, the stereotypical Swedish blond with the fractured English pronunciation. Her height is perfect; Max and Leo’s eyes meet her at chest height. Cornell is good at the demanding physical comedy. She has a lovely voice and is also featured in several songs.
(Image by: Charr Crail) The ensemble is, as usual, made up of mostly Music Circus veterans. Kim Arnett, Michael D. Jablonski, Matthew J. Kilgore, Ivory McKay, Jeffrey Pew and Matthew Schneider also perform well in supporting roles.
Image by: Charr Crail
Director Glenn Casale does a great job of staging the action throughout the Wells Fargo Pavilion and gives everyone in the audience good exposure to the action. Casale keeps the action moving along but gives the audience time to enjoy each song.
Production stage manager Craig Horness is in his 16th season with the Music Circus. His assistant stage manager, Katherine Cannon, keep a small army of stagehands changing sets on the run.
Great costumes (Mark Koss) and wigs (Judi Lewin), along with the scenic design by Scott Klier and Jamie Kump, and Martin E. Vreeland’s lighting, create the spectacular visual effect Music Circus audiences have come to expect. Dan Mojica’s choreography puts all of this in motion.
Musical director Dennis Castellano conducts the 16 piece orchestra that produces the beautiful music of the Music Circus.
The 61st season opener has everything expected from the Music Circus. There are lush production values, beautiful music and a good story. In addition, there are beautiful girls and boys in the ensemble dazzling the audience with their dancing. Even the intermission is great fun.
Shows daily through July 17, 2011
Next up "Oliver!" Opening July 19, 2011