Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater is 200 this year and has seen its share of slimey producers, but no hype needed for their current production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers. It is a bubbling over gay soufflé.
Mel Brooks dishes out the burlesque and schmaltz, but this show has a glittering camp of its own. Max and Leo’s bromance is sweet, but we are blinded by Adolf’s lame jumpsuit in ’Springtime for Hitler’.
Ben Lipitz, veteran of the Walnut stage, stars as portly gigolo producer Max Bialystock and Ben Dibble is the little blue-blanket clutching accountant Leo Bloom. The supporting cast includes Jeffrey Coon as Franz the neo-Nazi playwright and Amy Bodnar as ripe Swedish bombshell Ulla.
Jeremy Webb and Robert McClure (star of the last year’s national touring co of ’Avenue Q’) play the gayer than gay couple Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia.
In an interview during previews, Dibble said that the show is licensed with all of the Broadway minted Brooks-Susan Stroman comedy bits, but the Walnut team wanted to go in other directions. He credits Marc Robin, the show’s director – choreographer for keeping this Producers fresh.
“Marc came in with everything blocked, including the choreography, in a week, which is amazing for a show this size. After that, we got to play a lot. He wanted to make this a pretty bawdy production and pushing the line. We were shocked some of what we were rehearsing stayed in.”
Ben is a triple threat in this show and vocal prowess can handle what most Leos can’t. He is also co-starring with another fine singer Jeffrey Coon, who plays Franz. The pair just finished a successful revival of ‘A Year of Frog and Toad’ at the Arden. He said “Doing ‘Frog’ before this was great because it is the most exhausting show I’ve ever done…and this was easy by comparison because I was already in good physical condition jumping around the stage as Toad.”
The actor and his wife Amy have three children under four years old (who they dub The Diblettes). “My daughter Lila would have come every day if we’d let her. My son Jonah, who is two, made it a few times, until he got bored and started screaming for daddy. At home, we all sing the songs together now.” Dibble said.
Dibble loves ending up in more than one homogag during such numbers as ’Keep it Gay. “Mel is both an equal opportunity offender, but gets to it from a position of love. Carmen and Roger are so funny that you know that he loves those characters. He doesn’t mock them with distain. And it’s not at all homophobic.”
McClure is completely unhinged as Carmen. How do Max and Leo withstand Carmen’s infamous hiss? “Every time it’s a struggle for us not to break.” Dibble describes.