Thoughts about the new national tour of “The Producers, which makes a stop next week at the Saroyan Theatre:
▪ Is there anything funnier? For laughs-per-square-inch, it’s hard to top the comic wallop packed by the stage version of “The Producers.” The Broadway musical adaptation of the beloved 1968 Mel Brooks film had people spit-laughing when it opened in 2001, and for several years it was the hardest ticket to get in New York.
▪ Back story: “The Producers” in 2004 came to Fresno in a big-deal Equity tour that played a sit-down run of a week, which at the time was the biggest local theatrical event of the year. All that hoopla has died down, of course, and the musical long ago settled into more of a classic mode, the type of title performed by community theaters across the country, including a couple of times by Good Company Players.
▪ Current tour: This non-Equity, bus-and-truck tour stops for a two-night run, following the typical Fresno pattern. The show is based on the original direction and choreography of Susan Stroman.
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▪ The story: A struggling Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, teams up with a nebbish accountant, Leo Bloom, in a scheme to open a new show so terrible it closes after one night, thus bilking their investors. Their production of “Springtime for Hitler” gives an upbeat take on the Nazi side of World War II.
My name is Ulla Inka Hanson Benson Yanson Tallen Hallen Swadon Swanson.
▪ A Fresno welcome to: Jessica Ernest, a native of southern Maine and 2011 musical-theater graduate of Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa., who in the show plays the Swedish bombshell Ulla, secretary to Bialystock and Bloom and star of “Springtime for Hitler.” I chatted by phone with Ernest from the tour’s stop in Colorado Springs. She’s always been a belter, starting as a kid with the starring role in “Annie,” and her big voice helped land her the role.
▪ Comedy tonight: As I was speaking with Ernest, I was reminded of the following exchange in “The Producers” between Ulla and her new bosses that never fails to crack me up:
Ulla: My name is Ulla Inka Hanson Benson Yanson Tallen Hallen Swadon Swanson.
Max Bialystock: What is your first name?
Ulla: Oh that was my first name. Would you like to hear my last name?
Max Bialystock: We don't have the time.
▪ OK, back to Ulla: It can be easy to play the curvy, leggy blonde as a sex-kitten stereotype, but Ernest hopes she brings her own subtle variation to the role. “I think I try to bring a lot of myself to the part,” she says. “It’s easy to say, ‘OK, she’s the blond bimbo, she’s not very smart and not very talented.’ But I don’t want to play into that. I think that I take it in a different direction.”
▪ Political incorrectness: The topic might be a big one in the current presidential campaign, but nothing – and I mean nothing – tops Mel Brooks’ brilliant spoof of the unthinkable in this show. People still get shocked, even 15 years later, Ernest says.
▪ The takeaway: The must-see energy of “The Producers” might not crackle with quite as much intensity as in those first heady New York years, but don’t worry: The laughs are still there.
- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, and Wednesday, Feb. 10
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.
- www.broadwayinfresno.com, 800-745-3000