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‘Producers’ is a rollicking, ribald romp at Gem

‘Producers’ is a rollicking, ribald romp at Gem
Mel Brooks, director, actor and screenwriter, poses in Los Angeles in this July 23, 1991 file photo. Brooks created the stage version of “The Producers” and the original 1968 movie. The Gem Theater in Garden Grove is staging a production of the beloved play through Oct. 21. (Photo by Nick Ut / Associated Press)

When Mel Brooks, already the king of cinematic comedy (it’s good to be the king), elected to try his hand at Broadway, he had a handful of his movies to choose from — “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety,” to name a few.

But Brooks reached further back, to 1967, and one of his earliest efforts, and bounced it off the Big Apple — to enormous popular acclaim. “The Producers” ran for 2,502 performances and won a dozen Tony awards.

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It’s been around these parts professionally, but now the show is getting its first local production, at Garden Grove’s Gem Theater, and it’s still a full-fledged laugh riot. This tale of a high-octane Broadway producer and his meek accountant seeking to clean up financially on a critical flop still generates enormous response.

It’s a particular triumph for Damien Lorton, who not only directs the actors and the orchestra but also steps into the leading role of Max Bialystock, architect of all the pandemonium. Lorton displays manic energy and showmanship, culminating in his terrific late-show anthem “Betrayed.”

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Alex Bodrero takes on the contrasting character of Leo, the numbers cruncher who nervously clings, Linus-like, to his security blanket (and later to his sexy secretary). It’s a richly detailed comedic depiction of exaggerated mental terror.

That statuesque Swedish secretary, Ulla, is beautifully rendered by Claire Perry, who displays a startlingly powerful voice. Chris Harper robustly enacts all of the prevailing Nazi Germany stereotypes as the passionate playwright who still reveres the fuehrer.

Flaming satire reins in the over-the-top performances of Robert Edward as a wispy director and Peter Crisafulli as his “common-law assistant.” When Edward is forced into action in “Springtime for Hitler,” playgoers of Germanic ancestry could be forgiven for cringing.

That production, incidentally, is where choreographers Shauna Bradford, Heather Smith and Alan Collins and costume designer Ramzi Jneid come into their own. Subtlety is thrown to the winds as the show’s excellent ensemble members and prop-bedecked chorus girls strut their sardonic stuff.

The large, 14-piece orchestra keeps the pace humming and the “little old lady” number with a dozen identically dressed women on walkers is a particular howler. Typical Brooks phrases like “walk this way” and “it’s good to be the king” also find their way into the show.

You may be familiar with the material (most will be), but that won’t stop you from enjoying the way Lorton and his company present it, a riotously ribald package of showbiz satire at the Gem Theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “The Producers”

Where: Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove

When: Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sunday at 2 and 8 p.m. through Oct. 21

Cost: Starts at $26

Information: (714) 741-9550 or onemoreproductions.com

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