Ridicule is the best revenge.
So said Mel Brooks about one of his best-known films and musicals, “The Producers,” which bravely and outrageously lampoons Adolph Hitler.
Denouncing a dictator requires bodacious but believable characters, comic relief in spades and clever costumes that speak volumes.
That’s what made Brooks’ 1967 comedy film, later turned into a hit Broadway musical, so hilarious.
But it’s risky business to make fun of Nazi Germany. So community theater must be certain it has the courage and cast to pull it off.
Whidbey Playhouse nails it.
The play’s lunatic characters are superbly acted, its song and dance numbers are great fun and the show’s amusing costumes are sometimes too bizarre to be believed.
“The Producers” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor. It runs through March 4 with evening performances Thursday-Saturday and a matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $20.
Actor Karl Borja takes the lead role of Max Bialystock and runs with it. His energy is palpable and his facial expressions priceless.
Fernando Duran plays Leo Bloom, and he deftly handles the character’s transformation from mild to slightly wild. He’s convincing as a meek accountant, a feckless flirt and a virgin Broadway big-time producer and groom.
Both Borja and Duran put on the suits of well-known characters and the stars who played them — Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane played Max and Gene Wilder and Matthew Broderick portrayed Leo.
Although he seems born for the role of the boisterous schemer, Max Bialystock, Borja said it’s not a part he ever actively sought.
“I admired Nathan Lane but it wasn’t until I threw myself into the character that I learned what a great role and play it is,” Borja said in an interview. “It’s hard not to love it.”
The play is co-directed by Sue Riney and Andrew Huggins, who also stepped on stage to play various roles after an actor dropped out.
“We have a skeleton cast,” Riney remarked before last week’s preview show. “But everyone is fabulous.”
The ensemble cast shines through many character and costume changes.
“The Producers” becomes a play within a play when Bialystock persuades Bloom to go along with his scheme to produce a flop, which translates to more money if he oversells shares to investors.
Finding a horrible script and hiring a hopeless director are crucial.
Enter two more wonderfully woeful characters and actors.
Dressed in an outfit straight out of Leavenworth (the town, not the prison)Nate Edmiston portrays the Fuhrer-loving Franz Liebkind, who spends time on his rooftop cooing to his pigeons.
He’s written “Springtime for Hitler,” a play that Bialystock finds suitably awful. But to secure rights, Bialystock and Bloom must follow the dancing steps of the deranged Liebkind and swear not to offend his hero, Hitler.
Edmiston, who is tall, bearded and skilled at assuming accents, really ramps up the ridicule. Singing about the hills and vales of Bavaria, his size and booming voice are vividly captured in a spotlighted scene.
Playing the hired director Roger De Bris is Douglas Langrock, a family practice physician in real life and a flamboyant dress and wig-wearing showman on stage.
Hilarious as a last-minute substitute for the role of Hitler, Langrock rocks.
He’s attended by the smitten and swishy Carmen Ghia, played in tight leather black pants and black wig by Jim Reynolds, recently seen in a military macho role in “A Few Good Men.”
In her first leading lady role, Emily Hoyt assumes the many evening gowns and Swedish accent of Ulla with great charm.
The set and costumes stand out in this production. Kudos to Genny Cohn and Amy Malmkar and all who had a hand making sausage-strewn gowns, pretzel headdresses and fabulous evening wear for Hoyt, Langrock and others.
Hoping for a skunk, the producers end up with a smash hit on their hands. Borja ends up singing from his jail cell, “Where did I go right?”
An apt question that’s asked and answered at Whidbey Playhouse through March 4.
“The Producers” on stage at Whidbey Playhouse, Feb. 9-March 4. Because of strong language and adult humor, it may not be suitable for all audiences. Shows are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2:30 Sunday. Tickets $20, students $18. Available at the theater or online www.whidbeyplayhouse.com