2 min

So wrong – bravo!

But in all the right ways

Credit: Xtra files

The Producers is perhaps the queerest musical ever told. Peopled by a pair of het entrepreneurs, two fab fag queens and a small chorus of Village People clones, the queerness of this show is indirectly commented upon when a Broadway mogul reads a review that emphatically states, “Shocking. Outrageous. Insulting. I loved every minute of it.” Queer can connote contradiction. One thing can be another. Something can be offensive, entertaining and endearing. A masculine-looking man can behave like a feminine-acting woman. In the show-stopping number “Keep It Gay” the audience is thrilled by these glamorous conundrums as they prance across the stage in brilliant musical comedy form.

Based on the 1968 film of the same name, Mel Brook’s Tony Award-winning show had its Canadian premiere at Toronto’s Canon Theatre on Dec 11. In the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom (originated on Broadway by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick), Seán Cullen and Michael Therriault deliver first-rate performances requiring a challenging, breakneck combination of singing, dancing and comic acting.

Cullen possesses a kind of robust Jackie Gleason masculinity that is extremely appealing but lacks some of the manic zaniness a performer like Nathan Lane must have brought to the role. Nevertheless, he pulls it off with an impressive vocal range and impeccable timing as the ruthless producer famous for creating shows that send-up familiar titles – a musical version of Hamlet entitled Funny Boy, She Schtups To Conquer, and A Streetcar Named Murray, to name a few. Set, costumes, book and score are so loaded with clever comic quips it is hard to keep up with Brooks’ non-stop night of outrageous laughs and director Susan Stroman’s diverse expansive, choreography and blocking.

Therriault’s Bloom has the perfect blend of sincerity and physical agility as he delivers adept dance routines, fabulous pratfalls, romantic ballads and comic songs with equal integrity. Although the primary romantic couplings are straight, a touching homo-neurotic quality emerges during the number “Till Him.” Juan Chioran as the gay actor/director Roger De Bris, and Brandon McGibbon as his flamboyant “assistant” Carmen Ghia, offset heterocentricity with such abandon one cannot help but die laughing when Bloom exclaims, “The leading man was so gay he nearly flew away!”

Aided by brilliant supporting cast and chorus, the show shines with star turns by Sarah Cornell as the Swedish Bombshell Ulla and Paul O’Sullivan as the Hitler-loving Franz Liebkind. Ultimately this no holds barred, wacky comedy finds a sharp counterpoint in a delightfully eerie musical number entitled “Springtime For Hitler.” Beware and be entertained by a swastika-shaped chorus of dancing, singing Nazis.

This is Cabaret gone terribly wrong – in all the right ways. Bravo!

The Producers continues at The Canon Theatre (244 Victoria St); call (416) 872-1212.