The Mel Brooks' Broadway musical comedy The Producers may have won a record-shattering 12 Tony Awards in 2001 and spawned both a big-screen adaptation in 2005 and several national and international touring productions. But for a lot of people, it's glowing and raucously entertaining reputation is all that they know.
"There's more people that haven't seen it than people who have seen it. That I can't believe. I thought everyone has seen it," says David Johnson, who plays hapless Broadway producer Max Bialystock in the current national touring production. "I think a lot of it is word of mouth."
For Lexington theater fans who have always wanted to see The Producers but didn't have the opportunity, they won't have any good excuses after this weekend when the production makes a run at the Lexington Opera House Friday through Sunday.
The Producers, adapted from Mel Brooks' original 1967 cult hit comedy film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, features a partnership between two characters who couldn't be more different. Max is a quirky, greedy swindler of elderly women who has ambitions of becoming a Broadway producer. He taps his panicky, play-by-the-books accountant, Leo Bloom (Richard Lafleur), to devise a scheme to make a cash grab by making the worst Broadway flop ever and pocketing the investors' money.
Putting the pieces together, requiring finding the worst of the worst in scripts, directors and acting talent, leads to one catchy tune and gut-busting (often offensive) laugh after another.
"The pacing of the show, it's like a roller-coaster," Johnson says. "Just when you've seen everything, the next scene tops the one prior."
Some actors find themselves relating to the character they are portraying. For Johnson, at different point of his life, he could relate to both of The Producers' leads. The seasoned theater actor, 41, quit the business to open a nightclub in Manhattan and wanted to lead a normal life before being called back to the stage.
"For many years, I've been more of a Leo Bloom than a Max," he says. "I don't know what happened, I have a lot of Max Bialystocks in my life. I have a lot of eccentric people in my life. That kind of refocused my drive into the world of theatre."
Johnson has always liked The Producers since he saw the film, but his experience on this tour makes him appreciate the musical for many of the reasons audiences have fallen in love with it. Being a Mel Brooks' musical, the fact that it is hilarious is almost a given. But the music, which Brooks also wrote and composed, features a lot of big numbers whose style is familiar to Broadway fans but can also win over just about everyone else.
"It has something for all people," Johnson says. "My mom is married to this blue collar guy, and, at the end of the show, I think he liked it more than she did."
But what Johnson said he thinks might be The Producers' secret weapon at winning over crowds is the subtle seriousness behind it all, and Brooks makes you care while laughing hysterically.
"After that first scene, they are really drawn into the show and its heart, the heart of the story," he says. "I think the minute the show starts, you can feel it. You can actually feel it from the stage. You've got them in your hand."