Dec 12, 2013

[Theater] The Producers (Repertory Philippines)

I'm a big Mel Brooks fan. I know I have my biological father to blame for this, but I don't regret this fact one bit. Sure, sometimes it's hard to find people who can fully relate to Mel Brooks humor these days, but then the folks that do get it make it all worth it.

Beyond his movies, Mel Brooks also has a bit of a thing for musicals, as seen in the limited musical numbers worked into his other comedies and of course his actual theater work. I don't think any of us could have predicted what a great musical The Producers would become based on the movie alone. But I guess there's something about two friends trying to cheat their way into money that makes for good musical comedy.

I was surprised when I first found out that Repertory Philippines intended to stage this musical locally. It's not exactly an easy show to run and it's one that's a little close to my heart given my longtime love of Mel Brooks. So I knew I had to see it in order to satisfy my curiosity and this certainly for an interesting play to cap off my 2013 theater year.

Synopsis: The Producers is a musical comedy adapted for the stage by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan has based on the Mel Brooks movie of the same name. The original Broadway production won a record 12 Tony Awards and was adapted back into a movie in 2005. The Repertory Philippines run was staged at the OnStage theater at Greenbelt 1 from November 15 - December 15, 2013.

Max Bialystock (Robie Zialcita / Carlo Orosa) was once a bit hit-maker on Broadway, but now he can only come up with flops. After the horrible reviews come out for his latest show, Max is visited by Leo Bloom (Topher Fabregas), a timid accountant who has been tasked to check Max's books. As he works, he reveals to Max that he's a big fan and that he too has dreams of becoming a Broadway producer. At the same time, he discovers that Max somehow still made some money out of his play despite it being a bomb at the box office.

Max offers Leo a chance to become a Broadway Producer in order to put his weird plan into motion. The goal is to put on the worst show on Broadway with no chances of succeeding and taking the money in order to retire some place nice like Rio. Leo eventually agrees to help Max and they are later joined by their new Swedish secretary Ulla (Giselle Töngi-Walters) as they set out to stage a flop. The play that they choose is "Springtime for Hitler", as written by a Nazi loyalist named Franz Liebkind (Joel Trinidad). They also recruit one of the worst directors around, the flaming queen that is Roger De Bris (Noel Trinidad / Audie Remora).

The primary cast was pretty good overall, although of course I still had my little complaints here and there. Robie Zialcita is an amazing performer who nicely captured the feel of Max as a character and backed it up with some fairly impressive singing to boot. Also notable was Noel Trinidad, who played the director Roger de Bris when we watched the show. He was campy without being insultingly stereotypical in his portrayal of an a very  flamboyant queen and did amazing well given the many things his character was tasked to achieve on stage.

And it goes without saying that I'm still quite the Joel Trinidad fan. He's an amazing character actor and I totally loved his portrayal of Franz way more than Will Ferrells' performance in the movie adaptation.

Topher Fabregras is beginning to get stuck in a stereotype, I feel, one that he doesn't necessarily excel at. His role as Leo called for him to be a timid, nervous character who eventually comes out of his shell and grows through the course of the play. We saw similar hijinks from him in another Repertory production - Boeing Boeing. The physical comedy he can handle fine and his singing voice isn't too bad either. But his actual acting and his way of delivering the lines always feels a little off and not at all natural. Maybe we'll see more range out of him should I get to see him in a play that isn't a comedy.

Giselle Töngi-Walters made her Philippine theater debut with the role of Ulla, which at first seemed a simple enough character to play. But she had to get involved in a lot of crazy physical comedy moments and also had to carry on with a comically bad Swedish accent. In this aspect, she was pretty amazing and I'm sure the audience enjoyed her antics since it was clear that she was enjoying as well. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious.

The actual production as a whole was pretty great, except for more of Repertory's on-going sound issues. Once they figure out how to balance their microphone audio levels and prevent the actors from disrupting one another's mike relays during scenes, then things will be perfect. This was especially noticeable whenever characters hugged and we'd get that horrible cloth scraping sound or whenever we'd struggle to hear the ensemble singing in contrast to the orchestra.

But in terms of choreography, sets and all the big production numbers, the show wasn't all that bad. They really made full use of the ensemble this time around and they all found ways of making some of their various roles stand out a bit more without stealing too much of the spotlight from the leads. And I totally appreciated the decision to have some characters cross-dress in order to meet character goals despite the limited size of the team. This time around it made a heck of a lot more sense than in some other plays we've seen recently.

Repertory Philippines' staging of The Producers is a great example of how to put on a play with a rather specific comedic voice. In contrast to The Addams Family the other week, this show had us laughing all throughout and we really had a good time. Thus I'm happy to rate it as 4 chorus girls wearing sausages and beer as part of their dresses out of a possible 5.

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