Chicago has always been one of Mel Brooks’ favorite towns. His late wife, actress Anne Bancroft, had family here and he chose it as the site of the world premiere of the musical version of his 1968 film “The Producers” back in 2001 before it headed off to Broadway. Six years, twelve Tony Awards and even a film remake later, Marriott Theatre becomes the host of the first regional production of “The Producers” since it closed on Broadway last April. Given that the show seemed so connected to the chemistry between its original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, an impression solidified by the fact that subsequent performers seemed to pale so remarkably in the same production (and that productions at Marriott have consistently slipped in quality over the last couple of seasons), it was hard to know what to expect. Happily, Marriott has pulled out all of the stops to create a first-rate theatrical experience without attempting the impossible task of carbon-copying the original production in the round. Leads Ross Lehman as Max Bialystock and Guy Adkins as Leo Bloom offer their own alternate interpretations while maintaining a superb chemistry of their own. Lehman is far more low-key than the boisterous Lane or Zero Mostel, and far too thin for the climactic fat jokes to work, but his more subtle, wise-cracking approach works wonderfully well. At least on opening night, Adkins seemed to be imitating late comedian Wally Cox early on, but he allows his mousy character to take a true journey of self-discovery that Broderick only hinted at. Yes, lines have been cleaned up here and there for a suburban sensibility, but the heart of the show remains in tact, yet with a fresh, new interpretation that satisfies on every level. Most encouragingly, this solid production indicates that “The Producers” can indeed have a life of its own being totally rethought by regional theaters, which points to the solid genius of the work itself. It boggles the mind to think that before long, the day might arrive when some high-school students in Skokie might be satirically singing and dancing away to “Springtime for Hitler.” (Dennis Polkow)
At the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847)634-0200. This production is now closed.