Arts and Culture | Local

‘Producers’ is local group’s answer to modern times

Dennis Tamblyn as Max Bialystock, Matt Holter as Leo Bloom and Liz Cracchiolo as Ulla.

If the woes of our country and the world are getting you down, perhaps you need a dose of something downright silly. Arizona Onstage Productions will provide the remedy with their production of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy, “The Producers,” which will be performed Aug. 19, 20, 26 and 27 at the Berger Performing Arts Center.

Annette Hillman, who will be directing this production, says AOP founder Kevin Johnson contacted her in January, saying that people need a really funny show because the mood in the country is so dark. “He ran it by a couple of rabbis too, in case it wasn’t appropriate for the time and he wanted to be respectful,” says Hillman, who is Jewish. “They all gave him the thumbs up.”

“I usually gravitate toward dark shows such as “Les Miserables” and “Sweeney Todd,” and seldom towards silly,” says Johnson. “Given the last several months of goings on in the world; the tensions, fears, and concerns — I need to laugh.  We need to laugh and laughter can heal.” 

The story line for “The Producers” follows Max Bialystock, a smarmy Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, his mild-mannered accountant, who have come up with a sure-fire scheme to make millions. First, they sweet talk some little old ladies into giving them their life’s savings. Then, they find a script — the most notorious flop in history, “Springtime for Hitler,” guaranteed to close after the first performance. Only one thing could go wrong: the show becomes a smash hit! The 2001 Broadway version of “The Producers,” adapted from Brooks’ 1968 film, won 12 Tony Awards, more than any other musical, including “Hamilton.”

Brooks and others have been criticized for the humor in the production, but Hillman says that on a recent PBS “Independent Lens” show, Brooks, Rob Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried and survivors explored humor and the Holocaust. Those interviewed for the show, she says, came to a “general agreement that there is a line, but with Hitler, the general feeling is that if you shine a light on hate, like germs, it dissipates that hate. And humor is a weapon.” She quotes Brooks as saying, “How do you get even with the man? You bring him down with ridicule. It’s been one of my lifelong jobs — to make the world laugh at Adolph Hitler.”

Hillman, who has degrees in theater from California State University at Long Beach and Purdue University, has directed twice for AOP: “Jewtopia” and “Gutenberg: The Musical.”

“Both of these were some of the happiest experiences in my theater career,” she says. “Kevin always picks interesting projects.” She also works full time for the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the UA. Asked how she manages to have time and energy for theater, she replies, “I’m nuts and am a big fan of Monster drink. But truthfully, I’m no different than most of the cast and crew in this show. We all do it because we love it and have a blast. It’s an incredibly collaborative form. You have dancers, musicians, choreographers, designers, crew and actors. Plus, in Tucson there are not many opportunities to do a big musical, which we all kind of get our ‘geek’ on.

“This production has some of the finest voices in Tucson, beautiful showgirls, dancing little old ladies, singing accountants — we’ve got it all. Plus, I staged about four Easter eggs (an inside joke hidden in a work) from other Broadway musicals in it. See if you can find them.”

For ticket information, visit arizonaonstage.org or call 882-6574.

COMMENTS