Mel Brooks’ The Producers is typically a thoroughly New York affair, due to the fact that it’s a slapsticky, backstage musical about a pair of corrupt Broadway producers determined to make the biggest flop in the history of the Great White Way. But last night’s production of the musical at the Hollywood Bowl came off — as you might expect, in such a thoroughly historic Los Angeles location — as a very Tinseltown take on the show.
And it wasn’t only because Hollywood stars like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dane Cook, and Rebecca Romijn were starring in the show, but rather because of the scene happening in the crowd as the sun set. Under the stars, tons of other stars were out and about. Brooks himself (looking spry at 86 years old!) ambled in with a security guard just minutes before the show started. The legend was followed by Eric Stonestreet, who plays Ferguson’s on-screen partner on Modern Family. Minutes later, Romijn’s husband Jerry O’Connell could be seen finding his seat in the amphitheater, which can hold about 17,000 folks when full. Who knows what other Hollywood stars or legends were in the crowd, but there were likely dozens of other bold-faced names there.
The show itself was a pure delight. The fact that the producers of the Hollywood Bowl’s annual Broadway production are able to pull off a show under the constraints — short rehearsal period, new cast members, all the staging — is always a wonder. Luckily, several of the cast members were familiar with the material, such as Richard Kind, who played lead Max Bialystock on Broadway after Nathan Lane vacated the role; Roger Bart, who originated the role of Carmen Ghia on stage; and Gary Beach, who won the 2001 Tony for his performance as Roger De Bris in The Producers. New to the musical were Ferguson, who played accountant-turned-producer Leo Bloom; Dane Cook as crazy Nazi Franz Liebkind; and Rebecca Romijn, who stepped into the bombshell role of Ulla.
It’s likely not shocking, but the seasoned members of the cast — that’d be Kind, Bart, and Beach — knocked their roles out of the Bowl. Bart and Kind, especially, imbibed their flamingly gay director and assistant characters with all the right charms, hitting the laughs exactly dead on. Kind, too, was a tour-de-force, as much as anyone in the role who’s not Lane could possibly be. In fact, he offered up one of the most unexpected funny moments of the evening, when — after experiencing trouble with his microphone for several numbers — he appeared on stage after a pregnant pause and announced to the audience: “Traffic was miserable.” The crowd really loved that one.
Of the new players, the standout — and, in my opinion, the true scene-stealer of the evening — was very shockingly Cook. I don’t think anyone expected that. For an actor, the only thing to do with a crazy role like Liebkind — the effeminate, yet militant, Nazi who keeps a slew of pet ducks and is the author of the book for the utterly offensive musical-within-the-musical Springtime for Hitler — is to dedicate yourself to the crazy of the performance, and Dane amazingly did that with stellar results. There was little that he did or said on stage that didn’t draw huge laughs from the crowd. Cook’s comedic chops filled the huge Bowl nicely.
Ferguson, while typically a huge favorite of mine and just about everyone else out there, was certainly adequate at bringing Bloom to life, but it was by no means a game-changing performance like Cook’s. He did a perfectly fine job, even if he did seem maybe slightly miscast for the role. Ferguson sure can sing, though, and that was on great display during songs like “I Wanna Be a Producer” and “Prisoners of Love.” It should also be said that, for the most part, he had chemistry with Kind. The pair pulled off the odd couple edict gracefully.
Meanwhile, the big stink-bomb casting of the production was Romijn. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why she was so ill-fitting for the role of Ulla, a Swedish sexpot who’s inserted into the show mostly for more (if possible!) comedic relief. The biggest issue, it seemed, as Romijn’s inability to really nail the Scandinavian accent. Her dedication to it seemed to go in and out and, frankly, Romijn just seemed somewhat uncomfortable on the stage amid everyone else. All in all, though, she didn’t do a horrible job. The truth is that the Ulla role is a weird one anyway, and Romijn might have just done as much as she could with it. But up against stellar performances from Kind, Bart, Beach, and Cook, she simply paled in comparison.
All in all? Far from the glitz of Broadway, The Producers produced a wonderful night at the Bowl — there were lots of laughs, and a handful of star performances. What more could you ask for? The limited-run show continues with performances tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky