Review: Moonlight’s well-honed ‘Producers’ is anything but a flop


“Mel Brooks’ The Producers” is a musical about the worst producer on Broadway intentionally producing the worst musical ever written. Of course, as fans of the 57-year-old comedy know, his tasteless Hitler-themed musical unexpectedly ends up a hit.

On Wednesday, Moonlight Stage Productions opened its 39th season at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista with its first-ever production of “The Producers,” and as expected, it’s a hit.

Moonlight has become so successful at breaking its attendance records year after year that on Wednesday it announced plans to expand its four-show summer season to five for the very first time next year.

“The Producers” isn’t an easy show to, well, produce. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular requiring 22 triple-threat performers, elaborate costumes and sets, puppetry and trampolines. Fortunately, the Moonlight production features the Broadway national touring production’s lavish costumes and sets, including the epic swastika kickline and the bratwurst and pretzel showgirls. A few lighting, scenery and choreography glitches slightly marred the opening-night performance, but that’s sure to settle in by this weekend.

“The Producers” is the story of schlock theater producer Max Bialystock, who hatches a scheme with timid accountant Leo Bloom to produce a surefire Broadway flop that’ll close on opening night so they can pocket all the investors’ money and abscond to South America. Unfortunately for them, their outrageous gay romp, “Springtime for Hitler,” becomes a smash. Originally a 1962 film, “The Producers” was adapted into a musical in 2001 and won a record 12 Tony awards.

Larry Raben both directs the Moonlight production and stars in the show as Leo Bloom. He played Leo on Broadway and the full Las Vegas run of the show, so his ease and comfort with the material makes for a smooth, funny and tightly paced show. As Leo, he endearingly grows from cowering to confident.

Moonlight veteran Jamie Torcellini stars as Max, a role usually played by larger-than-life (both in physical size and personality) actors. Torcellini is a diminutive guy, but he steals the show in a lovable, full-bodied, all-out performance wearing a wacky comb-over wig that deserves its own program bio. Raben and Torcellini also have great chemistry, having co-starred as Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, respectively, in Moonlight’s 2013 “Young Frankenstein.”

Choreographer Karl Warden faithfully re-creates Susan Stroman’s energetic Broadway choreography, best known for its chorus line of tap-dancing grannies with walkers. And music director Lyndon Pugeda has confidently coached the singers and musicians and conducts the orchestra in the pit.

Josh Adamson sparkles as Roger De Bris, the flamboyant gay director who steps into the lead role of Hitler on “Springtime’s” opening night for a Judy Garland-esque turn. Max Cadillac aces his biggest Moonlight role to date as Roger’s lisping common-law assistant Carmen Ghia. Luke H. Jacobs amuses as the neo-Nazi “Springtime” playwright, Franz Liebkind. And statuesque singer/dancer Katie Barna makes an impressive Moonlight debut as sexy Swedish secretary, Ulla.

“The Producers” is a hilarious show, but be warned: It’s chock full of Brooks’ signature bawdy, R-rated humor and coarse language, so bring the kids instead to Moonlight’s next show, the family-friendly “Matilda.”

“The Producers”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Through June 29.

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Tickets: $17-$57

Phone: (760) 724-2110