THE PRODUCERS by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, directed by Susan Stroman, with Seán Cullen, Michael Therriault, Juan Chioran, Paul O'Sullivan, Sarah Cornell and Brandon McGibbon. Presented by David and Ed Mirvish at the Canon Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs indefinitely, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $31-$121. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Talk about timing. Mel Brooks's The Producers wouldn't have lasted a minute in the mid-1980s, during the height of racial, sexual and cultural sensitivity now known as political correctness. Its success is largely due to the greying of a well-heeled audience only too eager to see all the stereotypes they grew up with finally onstage. Is it OK to laugh at swishy fags? Women who thrust their boobs in men's faces? Horny grannies?
Yes! Cue the middle-brow audience sigh of relief.
But even on opening night last Thursday, there weren't huge laughs.
Maybe I'm not the only one who feels uncomfortable watching a dancing swastika onstage after all.
Brooks's musical, which he adapted from his 1968 film with co-writer Thomas Meehan , knows it's in bad taste. The plot sets us up for it. When renowned producer of Broadway flops Max Bialystock ( Seán Cullen ) hears from accountant Leo Bloom ( Michael Therriault ) that a sure-fire disaster with lots of investors could net a fortune, the two set out to create the worst show ever.
Enter neo-Nazi author Franz Liebkind ( Paul O'Sullivan ), whose show Springtime For Hitler, the two muse, would be sure to fold, especially as directed by flaming queen (and crossdresser to boot!) Roger De Bris ( Juan Chioran ).
The show's structure is cleverly put together and plays against our over-familiarity with the Let's Put On A Show! genre. When Springtime For Hitler is a hit - critics call it a satiric masterpiece, a label Brooks probably intended for The Producers itself - Max and Leo sing a lament called Where Did We Go Right? Cute.
But the show has a crude retro feel, like a late-night marathon of the Carol Burnett Show or Laugh In. Amusing, but is it still relevant?
In a three-hours-plus show, director/choreographer Susan Stroman moves things along swiftly, although the first act's momentum is lacking in the second. The chorus is efficiently used - there's no waste.
The role of Max is an impossible, larger-than-life creation, and while musical newcomer Cullen does his best, he seems uncomfortable. When lines should be tossed off, you feel him straining and mugging. (Cullen's comedy chops are better suited to an intimate theatre.)
Therriault fares better, possibly because we know more about his meek accountant character, and though he's got a small voice, he shapes his performance well.
Best are the supporting characters, including Sarah Cornell 's Swedish blond bombshell, Steve Ross in a variety of small roles and Chioran - now there's a voice and presence - as the scene-stealing femme artiste.