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Arizona Broadway Theater Has Opened Their 10th Season To Uproarious Laughter And Outrageously Offensive Jokes With Mel Brooks' Hysterical Broadway Hit The Producers Featuring A Cast That Might Make One Forget They Are Not On The Real Broadway

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 17, 2014 — Last week was not just opening night for one of the most beloved Broadway plays written in the last 20 years, The Producers, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre. It was also the celebration of 10 seasons at “our little theater in Peoria,” as the theatre's Executive Producers Kiel Klaphake called it during his opening remarks, and the event was absolutely fabulous.

Obviously Paradise Lane in Peoria is a far cry from the glitz and glamor of the world’s most famous street for theater. But the ABT did not let that stop them from putting together an extravagant opening gala complete with patrons in tuxedos, a champagne toast, a jazz quartet, a red carpet, and even some paparazzi to go with it.

All of the pageantry seemed a bit campy when many audience members showed up in khaki shorts and polo shirts, but it also adds to the charm of what the Arizona Broadway Theatre is trying to accomplish. It’s about more than putting together a Broadway-caliber show with professional actors, quality sets, and a live orchestra. It is also about creating an atmosphere as close to the elegance and passion of Old Broadway as can be provided in the north Valley.

The Producers, inspired dinner menu went with a very New York feel including Italian delights like chicken Parmesan and ricotta stuffed shells, a deli favorite “Bially’s” beef brisket, and “Ullas” Swedish meatball. As well as a starter that Mel Brooks definitely would have been proud of, matzoh ball soup. Those combined with the drink specials, “The Hop Clop” and “The Ulla,” could have easily made the entire evening feel very “Mickey Mouse. But with the quality of ingredients, and atmosphere it seems more like an added touch of enthusiasm, than consumerist cliches.

The food was terrific, and the wait staff was terrific as well. For reference, go to Casey Moore’s Oyster House some time, experience their service, and then imagine the exact opposite. But just like the Oyster House on Ninth Street and Ash Avenue, at ABT it’s not about the food, the drinks, or the service. It’s about the scene and the entertainment. The scene was tremendous with smiling waiters, tuxedoed patrons, and all the rest.

The entertainment, however, that was the theater’s real triumph. The show was phenomenal. from the cast, to the sets, to the live orchestra. The show experienced some early technical difficulties, but the cast persevered and that’s about all that can be asked for when the microphones go out during the shows opening scene.

The actor most affected by the sound going out was Michael McAssey, who played washed up Broadway Producer Max Bialystock, but he didn’t let a small technical malfunction affect his performance one bit. The veteran actor simply projected his vocals a little bit more and kept on singing. He was still coming in clear as a bell in the back of the theater.

McAssey created his own version of Bialystock, seemingly taking more from Zero Mostel’s 1968 performance in the film, than Nathan Lane’s 2001 to 2005 performance in the musical and musical film.

The Bialystock that McAssey created felt more down and out, and desperate than the Lane’s more devious Bialystock. Of course the character is “the most dishonest man I ever met,” according to his own partner Leopold Bloom. His performance was just a little less flamboyant and more down to earth. Though he also brought the devil out in numbers like “Along Came Bialy” where he “shtupps every little old lady in New York,” to finance his flop.

Perhaps McAssey’s funniest moment came as part of one of the few liberties the Arizona Broadway Theatre took with Mel Brooks' musical. Toward the end of the show when Bialystock was recounting the course of events that brought him into jail he broke the third wall and mentioned the intermission, before a member of the Center Stage Catering Company brought him a piece of cake, a cup of coffee, and a bill to sign. The audience was howling with laughter.

Jared Mancuso was tasked with playing anxious accountant Leopold Bloom, and unlike McAssey he played it almost identical to Matthew Broderick. The character was meek, awkward, and totally neurotic: Mancuso even sounded like Broderick. He played the role of Leo Bloom to more than satisfaction, bringing fits of laughter on to the audience himself. “I want to be a producer” was definitely a shining moment for Mancuso. He strutted his stuff on the stage spilling his characters hopes into the song.

German playwright, and former Nazi Franz Liebkind was like an overgrown member of Hitler youth. I have no idea what country that accent was from but who cares because his singing and dancing was marvelous. For a big guy Greg Kalafatas could really move. His two dance numbers were two of the best scenes in the play. “The Guten Tag Hop Clop,” and “Haben Sie Gehort Das Deutsche Band” was just completely uproariously humorous.

Plus, there’s just something terrific about a group of pigeons doing a sieg heil

Swedish actress/receptionist Ulla was spectacular. Nicole Benoit really brought an authentic character to life on stage. The accent she went with did not seem to be native to Sweden … or anywhere else on earth, but it really fit. The character was almost robotic, but at the same time had a quite a bit of flair and personality. Then add in the fact that she is stunningly beautiful and it’s easy to see why Leopold Bloom decided to marry her and escape to Rio rather than stand trial with his partner Bialystock.

Even more important to Benoit’s performance than being gorgeous was her comedic timing. This was definitely a professional level cast and it was obvious that they had all put a lot of work into their performance. But Ulla just had a way of hitting those hilarious lines like when she described her morning routine and ended with “at 11 Ulla like to have sex.”

As terrific as Ulla was, the real show stealers of the bunch were Michael Moeller and Morgan Reynolds. They played the flamboyantly gay, and fabulous, duo of Director Roger Dubris and his assistant Carmen Ghia. Their chemistry was undeniable from the first time they were both on stage. The faces they made at each other were just as hysterical as they went through their numerous bouts of tete-a-tete. Moeller’s performance as Dubris playing a gay Hitler was almost too much to handle. It’s a ridiculous scene all together as the gay Hitler prances around stage singing “Heil to me,” but Moeller really seemed to put his own spark into the character.

Reynolds was outrageously funny. When Carmen Ghia was on the stage no matter who was in the spotlight all eyes were on him. His facial expressions were priceless, and his erratic random dance moves had the audience rolling.

The show will be open until Nov. 9.

Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at jmoses@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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