Review: Music Theater Works Presents Madcap Ribaldry and Great Music in The Producers

Mel Brooks is one of the great geniuses of comedy hands down and The Producers is one of his many masterpieces. Music Theater Works celebrates its 150th show under the direction of L. Walter Stearns. A stellar cast gives fine performances showing the underbelly of show business while spoofing the Third Reich and its leader as preening closet cases. The book is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. Prepare for laughs in this wonderful satire of show business and the folks who run it.

The Producers tells the story of skeevy producer Max Bialystock who is the king of the Broadway flops. Thomas M. Shea is hilarious as Max Bialystock, who raises money for his shows by romancing horny old ladies. His retinue of old chicks with big checks includes the fantastic Rachel Livingston who gave a delirious edge to the role of Honey in the Invictus production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  She doesn’t miss a beat with great physical comedy calling Bialystock’s bluff. I will never think of granny bloomers the same way again. And Shea has the perfect face and expressions for the role like those before him—comic masters such as Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane.

Thomas M. Shea with ensemble. Photo by Brett Beiner.

David Geinosky as Leo Bloom is perfect as the mousy accountant with the blankie fetish. Geinosky gives Leo’s need for his blankie a fetish edge holding it under his chin and hyperventilating in panic. He works for a fascist CPA (Nick Johnson) who gives off G. Gordon Liddy creepy comic vibes. It is an excellent characterization as Liddy loved to listen to Third Reich speeches. The Kafkaesque office is full of accountant drones singing “unhappy” as they pull the levers on their machines. They back up Leo in his reverie with the “I Wanna Be a Producer” song and dance number. When the boss detects ‘the stench of joy’ Leo breaks free and is all in with Bialystock and his cockamamie plan to produce the worst flop in Broadway history.

 A play that was dropped over the transom called Springtime for Hitler becomes their golden ticket. The playwright is the Teutonic Franz Liebkind played by Sam Nachison. The lederhosen-wearing Franz keeps pigeons named after high-ranking Third Reich officials. The animatronic-styled pigeons are fantastic props designed by Noah Elman with expressive cooing from sound designer Matthew R. Chase.

When Bialystock and Bloom hold auditions, the audience is treated to Kelsey MacDonald as Ulla the Swedish bombshell. MacDonald brings the house down with a rendition of “If You Got It Flaunt It.” The slinky white dress, long legs, and very flexible pelvis and hips are quite the package that ends in a full split. The choreography by Darryl K. Clark is really good and it is reflected in all of the cast performances.

L-R Kelsey MacDonald, David Geinosky, and Thomas M. Shea. Photo by Brett Beiner.

Max has to convince Roger de Bris (Steve McDonagh) to direct his tasteless play. That name is a wacky double entendre that is a Brooks trademark. It is classic Borscht Belt humor and in case you didn’t know, a bris is the circumcision ceremony for Jewish male children. McDonagh takes De Bris to the next level as a drag-wearing queen who needs endless flattery that Max encourages Leo to give. Eustace J. Williams is super sharp as De Bris’ acid-tongued assistant Carmen Ghia. The rest of the De Bris household staff is a parade of young men in interesting attire that includes an orange jumpsuit that will make you do a double take.

Mel Brooks is known for outlandish physical comedy and sight gags. If you have not seen Blazing Saddles or History of the World Part 1 you will be up to speed watching the musical extravaganza that is Springtime for Hitler.  When Franz breaks a leg on opening night, De Bris has to take on the role of the Fuehrer and McDonagh is a skilled comedian reminiscent of the great Tim Conway. His monologue is deliciously bitchy with some “all eyes on me” barbs.

David Geinosky with ensemble. Photo by Brett Beiner.

The costumes by Rachel M. Sypniewski are over the top and perfect. Showgirls dripping in bratwurst, Bavarian pretzels, and foamy beer head bikinis lead into a glow-in-the-dark swastika. Add in a goose-stepping chorus line and this is right up there with the chaotic end of Blazing Saddles. This is absurdity and farce at its best.

The singing is perfect for a Broadway musical where the actors sing in character. Shea has a touch of Jackie Gleason. Geinosky perfects the nasal sound of a schmo who has yet to live his best life. MacDonald has some great pipes and can hold her own while dancing up a storm. The ensemble is well cast and director Stearns brings it all together beautifully and worthy of Mel Brooks. The top-tier orchestra is under the direction of Eugene Dizon who is part of a musical theater power couple as the husband of director Stearns.

Musical Theater Works’ production of The Producers is a wonderful example of how to do musical theater. It is easy to see how they have thrived for over 40 years and will continue to keep audiences in Chicago and the North Shore entertained for many more years. I highly recommend The Producers and give it 3 stars.

Musical Theater Works’ The Producers is playing at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. The show runs 2.5 hours including a 15-minute intermission. The show is playing through August 20. Ticket prices and show times can be found at

For more information on this and other plays, see

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.