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"The Producers," The Maverick Theater

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Tucking into Mel Brooks's "The Producers," directed by Brian Newell, in that innocuous little Maverick Theatre across from the train station, is like opening a music box and then being bedazzled at the glittering and spirited theatrical spectacle contained inside. All night long the cast was in sync, no mean feat given its twenty-foot stage on which was strewn, variously, a theatre facade on a busy street, an office, a stage set, an East Side apartment, and a jail cell. Giving nifty little twists to each imaginable theatrical stereotype, the cast had the audience eating out of their hands, as did the formidable Ensemble, with its outlandish old ladies with walkers and tap dancing Nazis.

Veering wildly from the contrived to the outlandish, from the devious to the accidental, the production recounts the tale of a washed up Broadway producer (a musical about Hamlet?) who gives up on such ephemeral things as fame and settles instead for a more quantifiable fortune. In the process -- and to his chagrin -- he creates an inadvertent hit, but not before giving us, down to the last umlaut, a behind the curtain look at the underbelly of the theatre world. The curious way it procures funding (before this production I used to thank that grant writing was the world's oldest profession). The tidal fickleness of audiences. And the miracle of how, given the combustible mix of creative egos, any show gets produced in the first place.

Knowing no gear but full-speed-ahead, Rick Franklin's Max Bialystock was an impresario of impetuosity. With his zest for live theatre and an even larger zeal for self-aggrandizement, his Max was hilarious as he surfed the crest of the wave of public acclaim and then paddled furiously to not get landlocked when the tide washed out.

Clark Kent nebbish at first and then settling into a Cary Grant dweebiness, Shaun-Michael McNamara's Leo Bloom adroitly avoided pulling an Icarus, initially enthused but later wisely keeping his distance from Franklin's sun-struck Max.

With a voice that held a spot-on Swedish accent even while belting out a song, Kalinda Gray's Ulla was seductive without being divaesque, farmer's daughter purty without being flamboyant. Each time she uttered "Bloom" it felt like a command for the earth to stop spinning so bouquets of flowers could sprout up all around. Kittening and vamping across the stage like a cross between Lucille Ball and Greta Garbo, she directed her Nordic um, attributes outwards, seemingly unaware of how, well, Swedish she was; and it was this un-self consciousness that made her the threshold over which future Ullas must pass.

To grand effect, Glenn Freeze's Roger Debris (sounds French but, camp-wise, it's really trashy) glittered and glammed like the decorations on a fake Christmas tree, while David Chorley's Franz Liebkind, with his exaggerated gestures, his maniacal martinet voice, and his goose-step stride that took up huge hunks of stage, caused quite the furor with the delusional self-grandeur of his role model in a photo op at, say, Nuremberg.

Performances are 8pm, Friday & Saturday, 3pm, Sunday. The show runs until July 31. Tickets are $25, $20 for matinee. The Theater is located at 110 E. Walnut, Fullerton. For more information call (714) 526-7070 or visit www.mavericktheater.com.
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