Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"The Producers" in Easthampton

So if it's February or March in the Happy Valley, it's not just sugaring season, it's high school musical time. This is when all those hardworking teenagers put on the shows they've been slaving over for the last three or four months. Last Saturday we were lucky enough to be able to get tickets to the went to the Easthampton High School's production of The Producers.

Now first of all, can I just say, how cool is that, that a local high school puts on The Producers? It's a risky piece in many ways, not to mention risque. The themes are sex and the Nazis and it pokes fun at just about every single group you can imagine, from gays to Jews to women to men to fat people to nerds to Germans to New Yorkers to theater people. Especially theater people.

And if you missed this production, all I can say is, poor you. It was fabulous. With the exception of one major character whose acting was hilarious but singing was often laughably flat, every actor was spot on. I wasn't thrilled with some of the changes, like making Roger DeVries a woman, Rhonda, but I understood why: There aren't many parts for women in this show.

Other changes were pretty understandable, like in Bialystock's I Used to Be the King song, the original shouts, "Who do you have to fuck to get a break in this town?!" and they changed it to "shtup." I get that. But they left in the line, after Ulla sings "When You Got It, Flaunt It" (god she was fabulous), when Bialy says, "Ulla, even though we're sitting down we've giving you a standing ovation" and then he and Bloom cross their legs. Got a big laugh.

I was a bit apprehensive; for this show to succeed it really needs a strong Bialystock to carry it. And their guy was great. Right from the beginning. Strong voice, strong character, lots of energy. Bialystock is basically on stage for the entire show, almost, and he's in almost every number except about three, Bloom's, Ulla's, and Bloom and Ulla's. This actor was a pretty big guy but he moved smoothly and fast. He didn't drop a line in a song or spoken, that I could tell. Before the show I thought, okay, Bialy has to be good or else this show is going down. And he knocked me out in the first song.

The other remarkable actor was Ulla. Again, I was waiting for her line, "Now, Ulla belts." She's gotta belt. This kid belted. She was awesome.

More than most musicals I hold The Producers close to my heart. And when its unbelievable reviews came out, in April 2001, I remembered the lesson I learned from my father when I was 13, and got tickets. The lesson was that he opened up the paper one morning and saw that "A Moon For the Misbegotten" had opened and the reviews were astounding. This was the 1974 Colleen Dewhurst/Jason Robards production, and we went down to the theater that morning and stood in line. And it was, indeed, incredible. They filmed it later and you can get it on Netflix, I think.

In 2001 I didn't go into town to get Producers tickets, I picked up the phone, and I didn't do it immediately; I waited a couple of weeks. The next available was for mid-August, and I still regret getting the $75 seats under the balcony, and not springing for the $100 ones on the floor. We offered them to my father and step-mother, who to my surprise immediately said yes. Don't know why I was surprised, because it all makes sense now.

We went to our favorite Times Square restaurant, a Japanese place in a brownstone right off Broadway at about 43rd Street. It's not there any more, unfortunately. The owner was Japanese and had trained as a French pastry chef, so desserts were outstanding. The place was decorated like someone's living room, with books lining shelves and framed pictures on the walls. Her son played the cello and if we were lucky he'd be there the night we were eating, serenading the diners.

We loved the show, of course; I remember not getting some jokes that everyone else did, like during Bialystock's first song, when he says, "I used to be the king" and someone responds, "It's good to be the king." I didn't know this was a standard Mel Brooks joke in all his movies. But then I got the theater jokes like, during Roger deVries' song where he introduces his creative team, and everyone has been really gay, his partner, Carmen Ghia, Shabu, the house boy, and his stage and costume designers. Until he calls out for his lighting designer, who is a butch dyke with a deep voice and a bundle of cable over her shoulder. I went to theater design school with a butch dyke lighting designer, and I burst out laughing and it felt like everyone around me was looking at me.

We were lucky to see the entire original cast, not just Nathan Lane, who was increasingly absent as the run went on, and Matthew Broderick, but also Gary Beach and Roger Hart and Cady Huffman. Really great cast, some of the best working today, and most have won Tonys, either for this or other shows.

I know this will come as a surprise to people who know me but I am normally an obsessive person. I have been known to watch a movie over and over in a couple of weeks, or a TV show, or, in this case, a CD. I listened to it constantly the rest of the summer. This was a particularly hard summer--my father-in-law was dying of ALS, my family was very stressed, I was miserable for many reasons, and I didn't know how to cope with my feelings and I was making everyone else miserable around me.

And on top of all that, 9/11 happened, and I truly felt like I was going to break into little pieces. I had almost no resources, and I didn't recognize the ones I had. I was trying to keep it together but really felt like I was about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. One outlet was the Producers CD, which I listened to over and over and over. Lily came to know it very well. I gravitated to the line in the song "Springtime for Hitler," where Hilter sings, "you know we'll be going to war." Also the line, "the thing you gotta know is, everything is show biz." Those two lines rang in my head over and over.

Eventually I stopped listening to the CD, and I found some resources and learned to cope with my feelings a bit better. But I still love that musical, it still resonates for me, and I was thrilled that this production could pull it off so well. Kudos!

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