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They can do it!

Mel Brooks’ classic comedy has as much weight and hilarity as it did 50 years ago

Henry Talbot Dorset nearly steals the show when springtime comes around. Photo credit: Tim Johnston

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Mel Brooks' The Producers -- both the original film and its subsequent stage adaptation -- is something of an anomaly in mainstream entertainment; while future comedians would more flagrantly, almost giddily push the edge in search of provocations, The Producers maintains a pristine balance between pointed satire and almost cartoonish absurdity, over 50 years after it first hit screens. Pop culture essayist Lindsay Ellis has noted that, unlike other films that take a stance against nazism -- American History X, for instance -- The Producers has not yet been co-opted and embraced by neo-nazis. The film's showstopping number "Springtime for Hitler" has proven to be so silly that it can't be subverted, and The Producers' adaptation into musical form has only strengthened this aspect.

For those somehow unaware, the story concerns washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock (split between Brad Cerenzia and Chap Wolff) partners up with nebbishy accountant Leo Bloom (Will Johnson), who's stumbled upon an intriguing idea: if you were to raise an unnecessarily high amount of money for a show that was doomed to fail, one could conceivably make more money from a flop than from a hit. Soon, the journey becomes finding the worst play imaginable, and to staff it with the most incompetent crew possible. And so, Bialystock and Bloom find Springtime for Hitler, a Führer-loving ode to Adolf, written by unhinged nazi Franz Liebkind (Kyle Sinclair). Despite both being Jewish, Bialystock and Bloom decide to put aside their consciences long enough for a major payday. Along the way, the producers pick up Swedish ingenue Ulla (Hayley Ewerz) and wonderfully gay director Roger DeBris (Henry Talbot Dorset).

There's a certain amount of commitment that needs to happen, when putting on a production of The Producers, including just about every actor, up to and including the ensemble, wearing swastikas and goose-stepping. That it's all in service of telling the story of two opportunistic dirtbags and their blissfully oblivious crew makes this jarring imagery somehow more potent. On top of the satirical bit the play still holds, it's also giddily funny, trading Borscht Belt jokes with razor-sharp comedy in a mixture that could only be done by Brooks.

On the night I attended, Cerenzia and Johnson miraculously avoided doing imitations of either Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder or Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, which would seem like unavoidable pitfalls. Johnson proved himself to be a fantastic physical comedian, and Cerenzia held up to perverse tongue-twister songs. Sinclair showed (as he did previously in Peter and the Starcatcher) that he's a truly captivating talent, Ewerz was positively magnetic, and Dorset nearly stole the show when he took control of Springtime for Hitler. And, thanks to director Cas Pruitt and lighting director Aaron Mohs-Hale, this had some of the most impressive and comedically timed lighting cues I've ever seen.

Hilarious, ambitious, and somehow still culturally relevant, Lakewood Playhouse's production of The Producers is a ribald and compelling piece of entertainment. The sheer pace of it all may leave you in sweats.

THE PRODUCERS, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through July 7, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. SW, Lakewood, $25-$30, 253.588.0042,

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