Last week, I took my sister on her first trip to Barter Theatre. We saw the play, “Wait Until Dark” and the musical, “The Producers.” As I said, she had not visited the State Theater of Virginia previously and I am not 100% sure that she had ever seen a live musical either. If you are looking for a “girl’s day” idea, Barter Theatre is a perfect one. We watched the 2 o’clock showing of “Wait Until Dark,” then we rode over to Bristol and went shopping, came back to Abingdon and ate, then we watched the evening showing of “The Producers.” Sounds like a fun and busy day, right?
A Brief History Of Barter Theatre
The Barter Theatre opened in 1933 and is located in Abingdon, Virginia. The state theater of Virginia is the nation’s longest running professional theater and has it’s own in house theater group. This means that the actors are hired for year long contracts, thus they can focus on their current role[s] instead of looking immediately for the next job. Fun fact: In the midst of the Great Depression, people could attend plays at Barter Theatre by bartering, or trading goods, equivalent to the ticket price.
My Thoughts On “The Producers”
When I went to see, “The Producers” I had no previous knowledge of the plot of the musical. I had really only heard of it in passing. I had not seen the more recent movie starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman, nor had I seen the earlier production starring Gene Wilder. I had also not seen the play on Broadway, either. I do, however, love both Broderick and Lane, so I assume if it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me. 🙂 So, naturally, I figured I would love the musical.
Having no idea what it was about in advance, admittedly, as the subject matter unfolded, it did shock me a bit. I imagine I felt a bit like those in the audience seeing Bialystock and Bloom’s “Springtime For Hitler” production on opening night. Many questions went through my mind. “Is it too soon?” “Should they be addressing this subject?” and perhaps, most importantly, “Am I evil if I laugh?”
After a few uncomfortable moments, I got over myself. I mean, the idea is hilarious. Two guys [one a Broadway producer nearing his relevancy expiration date, the other with aspirations of leaving his monotonous accounting job behind] come up with what they feel is both a brilliant and almost fool proof get rich quick scheme. The idea is that if you produce a big enough Broadway flop, and find enough unwitting investors, the producers could then flee with a few million dollars before the investors figure out they have been left holding the bag.
So, Bialystock and Bloom set out to find the worst piece of garbage they can to adapt into a Broadway musical: that gem being “Springtime For Hitler.” Essentially it’s a “gay romp” musical about the life and times of Hitler, something Bialystock and Bloom were sure would offend basically every living thing on the planet. Unfortunately for the producers, that’s not the way it worked out.
Let me first say that, I saw Michael Poisson [Max Bialystock] in, “Morning After Grace,” earlier this year at Barter Theatre. That man is a brilliant actor with an amazing memory. In both productions, he had epic monologues that he seemed to recall effortlessly and it doesn’t hurt that his timing is impeccable. I am now a huge fan of his and I am a little saddened wondering if he will or will not still be at Barter Theatre next season.
Though I can’t recall if I had seen Rusty Allen [Leo Bloom] in a previous production at Barter Theatre, I very much enjoyed his performance as well. He actually does remind me quite a bit of Matthew Broderick so, having not seen any version of “The Producers” prior to the Barter Theatre’s musical, I still could figure out who played what parts in the movie. It’s really hard not to feel empathy for the guy who had a dream they’d previously been too scared to realize finally gain the courage to go after it. I think it’s human nature to pull for the “underdog.”
Sean Maximo Campos [Roger De Bris] is ridiculously funny in his portrayal as both the director and as Hitler. His over the top behavior is hilarious. Though he is playing a huge character personality wise, which could come off as obnoxious, that’s not the case at all. Campos is able to keep it personal and endearing with sly looks at the audience making you feel like you are in on the joke. He’s perfect.
I did end up watching the Broderick/Lane version after I got back home as I wanted to see how the two compared. Both are fantastic productions and I have had much of the music stuck in my head since. That’s both funny and unfortunate as I am now finding myself trying not to sing the catchy, “Springtime for Hitler” in crowds that might not be aware of what that is in reference to. Also, my singing, in general, is probably something most would like to pass on anyway. 😉
In my opinion, the costumes were better in the Barter Theatre production than they were in the movie, “The Producers,” – especially the gray Nazi outfits used when Bialystock and Bloom’s play actually hit Broadway. They were so beautiful. Also the swastikas on the pigeon’s wings and the Madonna-esque spinning Nazi cannon boob outfit [my “technical” name for it] made me literally laugh out loud. This musical is a riot and the epic costuming just adds to it.
You can see “The Producers” now through November 9th at Barter Theatre. Get your tickets here.
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