On October 19th 2016 Israel Musicals premiered its production of “The Producers” at the Jerusalem Theatre. Based on a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, the show’s music and lyrics are by Mel Brooks. The musical is actually an adaptation of the 1968 film of the same name. Since its establishment in 2007, bringing together actors, actresses, musicians, choreographers, technicians, costumers and scenery artists of all ages, outlooks and backgrounds, Israel Musicals has produced seven shows, including this latest production, performing in several locations around Israel. Director of “The Producers” is Yisrael Lutnik, with assistant director-Malka Abrahams, musical director-Haim Tukachinsky, choreography-Avichai Barlinski and stage manager-Tammy Paul.
“The Producers” tells of two New York Jewish producers who plan to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Their plan falls flat when the show unexpectedly turns out to be a success. We are presented with a hilarious satire of the business side of Hollywood, revolving around the crude, failed producer Max Bialystock (Howard Schechter) and the wimpy, panicked and hysterical accountant-turned-producer Leo Bloom (Shai Amoyal), both well-cast and convincing. Bialystock raises money for productions by seducing cheques out of little old ladies in exchange for “hanky-panky” games. The worst show the two find for their “failure” is “Springtime for Hitler” by the moronic and crazed neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (David Kilimnik). Roger DeBris, the cross-dresser (Dale David Boccaccio Honor), accompanied by his valet Carmen Giya (Erez Kantor), is the most incompetent director they can find for the project. With propriety now thrown out the window, the musical serves up such immoral heroes, joyful fraud, greed and lust and unprincipled behaviour that we all end up joining in the fun…and that means a comedic Hitler, Nazi armbands and the sending up of gays, show business and honest business principles. Heterosexuality is represented by the flirtatious, coquettish secretary Ulla, well played by Meital Segal.
Choosing a musical based on bad taste and immorality might look audacious on the part of Israel Musicals, but the team obviously understands that Mel Brooks is a winner. His script is not only daring and gregarious, it is brilliant, keeping the audience alert, surprised and laughing. And “The Producers” offers plenty of good, foot-tapping music. Apart from the somewhat dreary stage set and a few lighting blips, the performance was very well done – hearty, fast-moving, spoken and sung with fine diction and all these with dedication. Kudos to Haim Tukachinsky for his splendid and lively musical direction of the instrumental ensemble and split-second synchronization with what was happening on stage.
What might come as a surprise to all of us is that Mel Brooks looked to himself in creating the two main characters. In his own words, “Max and Leo are me, the ego and id of my personality. Bialystock – tough, scheming, full of ideas, bluster, ambition, wounded pride. And Leo, this magical child.” The show’s printed program mentions friendship as one of the elements of the plot. “Till Him”, sung by Max of Leo, is touching evidence of the power of friendship, perhaps also of Brooks’ acceptance of the two contrasting sides of his own personality. On its site, Israel Musicals talks of its “sacred sense of duty to spread joy and happiness to audiences across Israel”. In my opinion, this theatre company has done just that!