Thank goodness Mel Brooks wrote his move script for “The Producers” 50 years ago and brought forth the musical version, being seen in rollicking fashion at the Bristol Riverside Theater, in 2001.
Both renditions derive their non-stop hilarity from satire, parody, travesty, and downright outrageous gags that would render today’s rife neo-Puritans apoplectic, especially when barbs are aimed at “sacred” groups that might claim offense, such as women, seniors, gays, the overweight, the insecure, Jews, and black spiritualists.
Imagine how a plot, funny though it is, about a man who raises money by granting sexual favors to lonely, elderly ladies would fly today. And what if someone at the recent Oscars had sought to improve career chances by pleading, “Who do you have to f*** to get a break in this town?” The pitchforks and torches would be in motion.
Brooks masterfully blends all kinds of deliciously deprecating mayhem into a mad, marvelous gem about a failing Broadway producer, Max Bialystock (Danny Rutigliano), acting precipitously on a tip from an accountant-turned-producer, Leo Bloom (Michael Doherty), that he can make more money by staging a flop than he can by bringing home a hit. The designed flop? “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical Valentine to the Fuhrer.
“The Producers” is a throwback to making fun — broad, mean fun — in a way that shows how jokes, if good jokes, are eternal, and humor is something to be celebrated and savored. In all of his major works the wily Brooks invites folks who can’t abide some ribbing to jump in the lake. Heaven bless him for it.
Bristol director Keith Baker goes spiritedly along with everything Brooks proffers. No bit is half-baked or begs pardon.
Lead Rutigliano is a flawless dynamo. He never misses a comic beat. He declares Bialystock to be low and despicable but keeps him lovable while you wait for the next line or salvo Rutigliano nails with the instinct of a famed comedian Jack Benny and the precision of legendary steel-driver John Henry.
Rutigliano patents a distinct way to convey all of Bialystock’s trickery, lechery, lack of conscience, and cleverness. The actor also finds the right way to make you notice his fine-tuned craft and achieves a boffo tour de force with Max’s jail cell soliloquy, “Betrayed.”
Doherty goes toe to toe to with Rutigliano and never winds up in the dust. He meets every challenge to be bigger and more exaggerated while seeming totally believable and real.
Doherty is a natural physical comedian and dancer with the extra advantage of being able to make his baby face express anything he wants, especially if it can earn an honest, or even an inveigled, laugh.
Danny Vaccaro — who did well in other Bristol musicals — bursts from what can be called typecasting with reckless abandon as the effusive “Springtime” director Roger De Bris. He revels in Debris’ flamboyant gay excesses and ignorance, including his surprise that Germany loses World War II.
Good as all of the above are, more treats are in store with Morgan Reynolds’ preen-perfect Carmen Ghia and Fred Inkley’s brilliant take on Hitler aficionado and “Springtime for Hitler” author Franz Liebkind.
From the tight black suit with the precise touches of accessorizing glitter, Reynolds scores with a shrewd vocabulary of leers, sneers, pouts, retorts, rebuffs, and giddy cheers. The best part is he never overdoes his well-timed sulks or sassiness and manages to make his character real. He is the best Carmen of the dozen I’ve seen.
And practically stealing the show, Inkley is a committed Liebkind who can muster a sense of genuine danger, leading to genuine fear, to those around him while he marvelously embodies the comic Nazi, one who doesn’t quite accept World War II is over, wants to spread good news about his Broadway-bound Hitler apologia to Argentina (the home for post-war Nazis), and writes a dreadful lollapalooza that is hailed as a Brooks-type send-up.
Linda B. Stockton’s costumes are wonderful. De Bris’ “Chrysler Building” gown, Ghia’s snug outfit, and a parade of German products — beer, a pretzel, sausage — as headdresses are especially inspired. Charles Morgan’s set moves efficiently to various settings. Ryan O’Gara’s lighting illuminates the many big numbers, but it needs to be more concentrated on Liebkind’s “sieg heiling” pigeons and the opening and closing night signs for Bialystock’s productions. Douglass G. Lutz’s band is aces.
The Producers, Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pennsylvania. Though Sunday, April 1. $49 to $56. 215-785-0100 or www.brtstage.org.