Photo by Craig Schwartz

A Noise Within

Amazing to think it was 200 years ago last year when Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus was anonymously published, its authorship at first left a mystery as no one in that repressive era in Victorian England would have taken her first novel seriously if they had known it was written by a woman. It was a highly controversial gothic tale that took on the theme of scientific innovation versus established notions of mortality and morality and, as it did so, scared the pantaloons right off the eager-to-be shocked citizenry of the time.

Ironically, the work began as something of a whim, composed as the fledgling writer and her lover Percy Shelley spent a dreary, stormy summer cooped up inside while visiting his friend Lord Byron’s estate in Geneva where, it’s said, possibly the men spent more time “together” than with her.

To relieve the boredom, the group decided to compete in a ghost story writing contest. Mary had nothing for a time, until one night she had a fitful dream about an undead creature wandering the world seeking revenge from his creator. “I saw a pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had created,” she later explained. “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”

The result was Frankenstein.

From early in my life, Frankenstein was a big influence in awakening my own imagination, even becoming the subject of a high school term paper for me that had the effect of being passed around from teacher to teacher throughout the school district, many surmising that its young author might be a good candidate for some therapy.

There have been many retellings of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece over the years, including first and foremost the 1931 film classic starring Boris Karloff and its legion of sequels and bastardizations. In 2011, Nick Dear’s new stage adaptation opened at London’s Royal National Theatre with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating playing the creature and the doctor who created him.

Dear’s work has finally arrived on our coast and how could anything so imaginative be in better hands than those of Michael Michetti, whose incredibly evocative visionary spirit has made him one of the most exciting directors working on LA stages. His exquisitely appointed mounting of Dear’s adaptation, perfectly coupled with the world-class designers and well-appointed resources available to him at A Noise Within, makes this a Frankenstein  full of bold new life and visual splendor.

Although it is a bit of a CliffsNotes version of the original novel, this new version of the story is told from the Creature’s perspective as he jolts from his electrical awakening and tries to find his way in a world he does not know or remember. Although we never know which body part is which and whose grave provided it, it seems here Dr. F has given his Creature a good working brain, as it doesn’t take long for his creation to start wondering, along with the rest of us, what the hell we’re doing here in this complex and often disappointing world.

At the beginning of this new adaptation, a huge single gold gilded-glass box sits ominously on the otherwise bare ANW thrust stage looking like a prop from a faux-Chinese magician’s performance on the vaudeville circuit in the early part of the 20th-century. As Robert Oriol’s rich and wintery original score starts to fill the house and strobes from Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting flash, the sides of the box are rolled away by ensemble members to reveal Michael Manuel as the Creature, twitching and jerking to electrical stimulus in Victor Frankenstein’s infamous attempt to bring his patchwork corpse back to life.

Manuel is magnificent in this difficult and demanding role, only leaving the stage for brief periods of time in the play’s intermissionless two-hour running time. For the first 15 to 20 minutes or so, he remains alone before us, jarred to life and then slowly, painfully teaching himself how to move from an agonizing crawl to pulling himself up into a hulking, lumbering walk. Although the scene lingers a tad longer than it’s able to keep us intrigued, Manuel’s multilayered performance is, simply, a tour de force.

Even as anyone who encounters the Creature runs in abject terror, as the play progresses he manages to learn how to talk and read, rather quickly becoming literate with the help of an elderly peasant (Harrison White) whose blindness keeps him from being revolted by the appearance of the poor guy—and by the way, Angela Santori’s makeup design for the Creature is suitably scary, although I do think it could have been even more grisly.

From the Creature’s point of view, the initial simplistic wonder he experiences, hit with the world for the first time in adulthood without a discernible past from which to grow and learn, twists into wretchedness as he experiences our species' lack of compassion and natural proclivity to destroy anything we don’t understand.

The Creature’s exploration turns to anger and resentment, eventually finding him only wanting one thing: revenge against Victor Frankenstein, the man who brought him to life and then abandoned him in horror when he saw the crude, imperfect monster he had created.

As Victor’s woebegone fiancée Elizabeth, Erika Soto is quite an asset to this production, doubling in another surprise role that easily shows her versatility. Bjorn Johnson has all the right attitude as his troubled father, and Christian Ganiere, doubling with Van Brunelle in the role of his adolescent brother William, makes an auspicious ANW debut, especially in his 11th-hour return from the dead in what may or may not be a dream in Victor’s head.

The only unfortunate Achilles’ heel for this production is the overwrought and emotionally false performance of Kasey Mahaffy as the Creature’s nemesis, who as Victor doesn’t seem to have any of the other performers’ ability to adopt the gothic style of the material without resorting to the twirling a metaphorical mustache. I suspect an actor as gifted as Mahaffy, whose work I’ve always found impressive in the past, will get with the program quickly as he works with and finds comfort in the rhythms of his costars but, for right now, his tortured mad scientist comes off as more Dwight Frye than Colin Clive.

Still, the production itself is epic in both its spectacle and the simplicity that’s craftily utilized to evoke it. Francois-Pierre Couture’s minimalistic set design, dominated by massive railroad tie-esque lengths of wood scattered upstage and suspended from above, becomes like another character in the drama, richly accented by Sayeg’s evocative lighting and Oriol’s dirge-like score and shattering sound effects. Although I must say I preferred the visible blue-lit scene changes that seemed part of the general dreamlike ambiance rather than the complete blackouts which broke the fluidity of the magical storytelling, this is a gorgeous, memorable retelling of the enduring old morality tale.

Bottomline, Frankenstein is yet another pure and unadulterated product of Michettiland, a place where one man’s signature vision is realized by the willingness to trust in it from everyone else involved. Michael Michetti’s unique artistic expression is realized with a continuous assault of modernistic tableaux and features, as did his glorious production of Brecht’s Edward II for Circle X that marked the first time as an actor I became putty in his hands, including dramatic smoke effects and scenes lit from the edges of the stage by crouching ensemble members holding hand-held lights. Even one pivotal scene taking place near the North Pole is depicted by simply covering the stage floor with a huge swatch of white silken material.

Yet with all of its innovations, there’s also a palpable overlying sense of respect for Mary Shelley’s original novel in this reinvention of the Frankenstein story, subtly calling out, two centuries later, that by looking the other way as our society devolves into chaos and domination, thanks to our indifference and unwillingness to confront our differences, the result is a culture anesthetized to violence and directly headed toward a return to barbarism.

THROUGH SEPT. 8: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. 626.356.3100 or anoisewithin.org


Photo by Teak Piegdon-Brainin

Pacific Resident Theatre

At age 18, Andy Warhola was ready to leave home for New York City since, as he tells the owner of a bar where he has taken up swatting rights in 1946, nobody gets famous in Pittsburgh and the quirky kid is already looking for his 15 minutes.

In the world premiere of Vince Melocchi’s Andy Warhol’s Tomato at Pacific Resident Theatre, it’s that clash between the brash idiosyncrasies of a kid with unstoppable ambitions and a gruff middle-aged blue-collar worker who has all but given up on his. Even as a teen, Warhol obviously had the ephemeral—and fragile—soul of an artist.

Melocchi’s fascinating two-hander character study is based partially on real facts and partially on the wild folklore that has swirled for decades about Warhol, whose own quarter-hour of fame lasted for nearly four decades before his untimely death at age 58, but there’s also a large dollop of fictionalized conjecture in the work.

It’s something akin to Peter Shaffer’s journey when, traveling through the English countryside, he heard sketchy details about a boy who had perpetrated a horrific deed but could not find any more details besides details of the act itself. Unable to get the incident out of his mind, Shaffer wrote a totally fictionalized play around the little information he had to relieve the cacophony in his mind. The result was Equus.

In Andy Warhol’s Tomato, the future superstar of the art world (Derek Chariton) wakes up in the basement storeroom of a working-class bar in his native Pittsburgh after fainting while helping his brother deliver produce. Behind schedule, Paul Warhola leaves the young Andy behind to rest with the promise to pick him up later in the day. For Mario “Bones” Bonino (Keith Stevenson), it obviously can’t be soon enough. To him, Andy is more of a puzzlement than anything else and, as he puts it, Bonino’s Bar isn’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table.

The young artist is oddly comfortable there, however, and his attraction to hanging out in the storeroom is difficult for Bones to understand. Perhaps the kid sees the roughhewn Slovakian-born father he lost at age 13 in his wannabe friend but, for the bartender turned owner, there’s no connection between the two, especially since his own conversations are about football scores and time spent balancing his books. “You’re an artist,” Bones concludes early on. “You’re always feeling things and shit.”

Still, Andy is all but ready to move in, especially since somehow he is able to work there and, because of his poor attendance at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), he needs a place that inspires him to work, his professor promising him he won’t flunk him if he fills up a sketchbook with art before the end of the semester.

Although there’s something a tad convenient about Andy Warhol finding inspiration in the cellar of Bonino’s from empty cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and bottles of Coca-Cola, not to mention Bones’ oddly poetic monologue about the produce Paul delivers—hence the infamous tomato of the title—Melocchi’s play is so much more.

After peeking through Bones’ industrial metal shelves crammed with cartons and bottles and storage items, he finds a typewriter and a stack of papers, including secret writings the ol’ guy creates he has never shared with anyone. Like his warning to Andy that if the bar patrons upstairs shooting pool and downing Rolling Rocks pick up on the fact that he may be a little “funny,” he’s also sure he’d be the laughing stock if they realized he also feels things and shit when nobody’s looking.

The two form an implausible bond, even as Bones is appalled when the kid tells him he looks like a burly William Holden and flirts with him outrageously, even at one point getting a little physically frisky, much to Bones’ horror. Still, what Andy Warhol’s Tomato celebrates is how alike we all are despite our differences, where we come from, and where we have to go to fulfill our life’s ambitions.

The bond between these two men is incredibly impactful, particularly because the bizarre young teenager who plops himself in Bones’ cellar, in the process of finding his sea-legs as an artist in such an unlikely environment, inspires his unlikely friend to explore his own dreams to be recognized as an artist.

Dana Jackson directs on Rich Rose’s evocative concrete walled and cardboard box-laden set with a unique ability to keep things moving despite the static nature of the surroundings and considering everything that happens only involves these two characters, each with their own desires, be it Andy’s need to get close or Bones’ desire to keep his distance.

Stevenson offers an indelible portrait of a hard-working man caught in the web of life’s everyday expectations. His performance is incredibly accessible, his character’s pains and frustrations, although palpable, subtle enough to make us work to deduce what the man’s frustrations are and see for ourselves how easily we might just identify with them.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Chariton is also an exceptional actor but, as one of the modern world’s most famous artists at age 18, to say he is glaringly miscast is an understatement. I have no idea just how old the actor might really be, but it’s purdy obvious he left his angst-ridden teen years behind some time ago. His performance could be quite compelling if he wasn’t portraying a character whose age factors so importantly into the storyline.

It’s also even more difficult to play someone real who was captured so often in interviews and newsreels, but from what I remember about Andy Warhol in the news and my few times being with him in the flesh was that, though dramatically mannered and larger than life, he was not at all “queeny” in his physicality or delivery.

If Andy had expressed to a guy like Bones that he was handsome in a burly Bill Holden-y way and hint he might want to get a little closer to him than his friend might find comfortable, he would have done so in a flat matter-of-fact vocal delivery and without cocking his head, batting his eyelashes, and fluttering his hands.

The quirkiness of Andy is all there in the script. If Chariton trusted Melocchi’s dialogue, followed his own instincts and avoided the kind of loafer-light affectations the man he’s playing never displayed—and was the right age to play him as an awkward rather than overtly feminine teenager—he would ace the role.

Still, all that can be overlooked, overshadowed by what Vince Melocchi’s Andy Warhol’s Tomato has to say about the human condition as we all spin out of control on this risky ol’ orb we call home. Van Gogh once said that great artists are the simplifiers of our existence. If we all stop alienating one another by focusing on our differences, instead trusting and finding motivation in the things we share that make us the same, our species’ ability to dream big dreams could become reality far more often.

THROUGH SEPT. 22: Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 310.822.8392 or pacificresidenttheatre.com


Photo by Jenny Graham

Antaeus Theatre Company

I was 11 or 12 when I first saw Lotte Lenya perform in concert in a Chicago nightclub and heard her unique interpretations of her late husband Kurt Weill's musical genius. I was knocked out both by Lenya and the music Weill composed—but it was the lyrics of the songs written by Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with Weill that made my head explode.

That introduction to Brecht was the beginning of my journey discovering all the countercultural wonders the world that great art has to offer. His epic plays sent me soaring off to new heights soaking in the classic works of boldly unstoppable dissenters with names such as Kerouac, Genet, Ginsberg, Williams, Baldwin, and with some embarrassment Ayn Rand, all of whom, along with Brecht, inspired me to race from one literary gem to the next.

The body of work collectively created by these literary gods sent any notion of adhering to convention and proper protocol in my own personal quest for windmills out the proverbial window for me and changed my life forever, yet no writer had a bigger influence on me than Brecht.

In 1963, Lenya joined George Voskovec, Anne Jackson, Vivica Lindfors, and a few other theatrical greats to appear in Brecht on Brecht, which took sections of his plays and poetry and presented them concert-style interspersed with audio of Brecht’s actual testimony in the McCarthy hearings that soon after sent him once again into East German exile to escape prosecution in good ol' A'murka.

I didn’t get to see Brecht on Brecht  originally performed but eagerly wore out the spoken-word LP of the performance released later that year. Then, as a junior in high school, I directed a section of it for a school project and several years later, I was thrilled to be cast in a university mounting of it, especially when I learned I’d be working onstage with a prestigious guest artist: Lotte Lenya.

I’m purdy sure I wore out my welcome with Weill's talented widow, asking endless questions and coaxing stories and opinions out of the poor thing during our run, which in retrospect might be why, though initially full of praise for my performance, she clearly began politely to avoid me, something maybe explaining why I was the only castmember not brought along to the production’s next touring engagement.

Over the years, I have gotten to see all of Brecht’s plays performed and have personally appeared in several, including his adaptation of Marlowe’s Edward II  in Michael Michetti’s gloriously inventive 2001 homage to Brecht’s concept of “epic theatre” for Circle X at the Actors’ Gang and then, several years later, I had the privilege of playing Chicago mobster Givola in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui  in the Classical Theatre Lab's mounting at USVAA in Culver City.

Although I had read The Caucasian Chalk Circle many times and have through the years worked with eager students performing scenes from Brecht’s 1944 masterpiece in my classes, I've actually never seen a production of it attempted—until now.

Lucky for me and any rabid fan of Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is being presented right here and now in our vast desert cultural wasteland by Antaeus, our town’s most reliable classical theatre company, beautifully mounted and brilliantly directed by Stephanie Shroyer, who helmed Antaeus’ memorable site-specific version of the master’s Mother Courage and her Children in a North Hollywood warehouse space 14 years ago.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle marked a fascinating departure for Brecht, who had for years led a nomadic existence as he fled Nazi Germany to reside in Denmark, then Sweden and Finland before seeking asylum in the U.S. in 1941.

As the once-celebrated playwright sought work as a screenwriter, he would meet with Thomas Mann and a group of other displaced German intellectual expats each morning at the Snow White Coffeeshop on Hollywood Boulevard (next to the Stella Adler Academy now) to complain to one another about how much they hated it here, particularly when trying to do business with The Business.

In 1946, Brecht wrote: “I ran from the tigers, I ran from the fleas. What got me at last? Mediocrities.” Truly, his Hollywood years are a fascinating study for anyone interested in a different view of Los Angeles’ eclectic history than I'll bet you’ve ever encountered. Google it; that’s what it’s there for, right?

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht admitted, was written with a somewhat bastardized new direction in mind, with more emphasis toward a generic pacifism than as a treatise skewering class struggle and political oppression. He geared it instead more toward middle-class American sensibilities, something he felt lacked substance and import yet he felt incorporated, especially in our grandly constructed world of commercial musical theatre, “certain epic devices” that intrigued him.

And so this play didn't premiere until several years after its completion and then at a small college in Minnesota championed, translated from the German, and under the direction of Brecht’s friend and admirer Eric Bentley. It was not performed on Broadway where it was originally written to debut until 1966, a decade after its creator’s death. It is not often presented, surely because it's such an enormous undertaking, but no producing entity is more up to the task than Antaeus.

Shroyer’s vision begins in the theatre lobby where, as patrons wait for the doors to open, actors quietly infiltrate their ranks and suddenly begin a dialogue between two groups of rural citizens in the fictional country Grusinia (a name derived from the Russian exonym for Georgia), who heatedly debate whether land returned to them after a war should again be used to raise livestock or instead be turned over to a new breed of semi-industrialized farmer with more modern ideas of how the place could become an agricultural boomtown.

This leads us all into the theatre, where the arguing factions are joined by a troupe of musicians and together join to present an allegorical morality tale that will possibly help cool heads and lead to more productive discussion. Brecht based the play-within-a-play these humble peasants present on a German translation of an ancient classic Chinese zaju verse play, itself clearly derived from the fable “Judgment of Solomon”—or did those sneaky fabricators of the Hebrew Bible borrow it from the Chinese?

Either way, Caucasian Chalk Circle, on Frederica Nascimento’s sparse but versatile set with Antaeus’ theatre space opened to the walls for the first time on both sides of the wings, explodes with wonder as the 16 dazzlingly committed performers play all the roles, not to mention all the musical instruments. Alistair Beaton’s sharply contemporary adaptation is superbly staged—no, choreographed—by Stroyer as though we are watching a three-ring circus without elephants or aerialists.

All the kinetic though strikingly austere staging and 15 (of 16) balls-out performances from a uniquely dynamic troupe of actors who clearly understand the broadly brazen demands of the master’s “epic” style without overdoing it (the 16th), make this production quintessentially Brechtian. It is mesmerizing in its continuously in-your-face delivery, yet manages to mesmerize without either missing the subtly signature humor written into the piece or overemphasizing any of the morality lessons, cultural indictments, or political jabs lurking stealthily just below the visual spectacle.

Steve Hofvendahl is a real asset as the narrator of the piece, delivering poetic yet hilariously confused diatribes from the sides of ladders about the residents of the community and the human race in general throughout most of the first act. Then as the play progresses, he becomes Azdak, a local farmer who despite any experience or education is elevated to become the judge of the community. His judgments are severely questionable, usually demanding a “gratuity” to the court dropped into a jar he holds on his throne-like bench.

At least Azdak has a good heart, a townsman speculates, a determination the Judge himself disputes. “I don’t have a good heart!” he corrects with some disgust. “I’m an intellectual!”

Aside from exceptional performances that could define the term “ensemble cast”—something that obviously would not have been possible without a considerable amount of grueling rehearsals one might envision were led by the ghost of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket—there’s one aspect of this piece that needs special commendation.

Unlike the days when Brecht added songs to his plays with the invaluable contribution of Weill and other composers during the later period when he founded East Berlin’s historic Berliner Ensemble, by the time he was grousing every morning with Mann and the others at the Snow White, his plays from that period only offered poetic passages with the expectation they would be set to music by whomever was presenting the piece.

When I belted through Givola’s “Song of the Whitewash” in Arturo Ui, according to my old disintegrating script, the music for the songs in the show were composed for the original production there by Berliner Ensemble’s resident musical director Hans-Dieter Hosalla. Here, however, although not mentioned in the program, I’m informed by Antaeus’ resident publicist extraordinaire Lucy Pollak’s always informative press release that there’s no officially published score and all of the hearty, impressively Weimar-savvy music and songs were created by Shroyer and the acting ensemble. 

To say what they have created is a remarkable feat is a true understatement. The music, the delivery of the songs, and the intrumental accompaniment on accordions and fiddles, as well as the occasional triangle and cowbell, is impressive and absolute perfection. Ol’ Bertolt, as well as Mr. Weill, I suspect, would surely be impressed.

“You people want justice?” the Judge taunts his critics and naysayers among the populace with a sardonic laugh. “But… can you pay for it?” Considering the brazen and equally immoral era our country is struggling to survive right now at the hands of a troll who crawled out from under a rock and his soulless minions openly looking the other way, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a cleverly entertaining yet haunting reminder of what can happen when uncontrolled greed overpowers simple morality.

In 1953's Buchow Elegies, Bertolt Brecht wrote:

"I sit by the roadside watching the driver changing wheels.

I do not like the place I am coming from.

I do not like the place I am going to.

So, why do I watch the driver changing wheels

with such impatience?"

THROUGH AUG. 26: Antaeus Theatre Company, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. 818.506.1983 or www.Antaeus.org


Photo by Matthew Brian Denman

Celebration Theatre

Eighteen years after premiering on Broadway in 2001, winning an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards and spawning a major film version in 2006, The Producers  is still billed in all its incarnations as “A New Mel Brooks Musical.” Surely, this is a contractual element demanded by Music Theatre International when securing the rights to present the musical but, in the case of the Celebration Theatre’s current revival, it couldn't be closer to the truth.

Under the guidance of director Michael Matthews, joined by repeat collaborators Janet Roston as choreographer and Anthony Zediker as musical director in the Celebration’s 49-seat Lex Theatre’s miniscule playing space, The Producers is indeed almost akin to viewing an all-new and freshly entertaining musical.

Working on this challenging stage, which is probably about the size of a trap door on the boards of New York’s austere 1,710-seat St. James Theatre where The Producers  debuted and ran for 2,500 performances, only worldclass talents such as Matthews, Roston, and Zeliker could possibly make it work. Instead of a massive line of synchronized tapdancing chorusgirls in the original production, for instance, at the Lex there are four—yet they dance with a spirit and energy that could conjure an army.

And where Robin Wagner’s versatile Tony-winning scenic design conspired in its grand playing space to create visual magic long before Broadway became dominated by projections and video grandeur, here Stephen Gifford’s set is obviously less able to morph from one wow-inducing scene change to the next.

This deficiency soon declares itself to be an asset to this innovative production, however, as the stage and proscenium crowded with teetering filing cabinets stays stationary throughout but tranforms with great whimsy into whatever Matthews and Gifford decide, with tongues firmly in cheek, to represent—including drawers that open from behind so arms can extend onstage to deliver props or single roses to the performers.

With a total of seven ensemble members cast to play all the various assorted supporting roles throughout the show, something that makes them often have to leave the stage from behind and race around the Lex to quickly reenter from the lobby in a completely new costume, what has been accomplished here is simply amazing.

Not much is lost or compromised. Insane stormtrooper helmet and lederhosen-clad Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (in a hilarious turn by John Colella, who nearly out-Mars Kenneth Mars) still keeps pigeons on his Manhattan rooftop, who roost upstage in their coop as hand puppets manipulated from behind able to dance along with Brooks’ catchy “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” and eventually reveal swastikas gracing their little birdy breasts.

And when all stops are not only pulled out but totally disintegrated in a sea of delightfully inappropriate imagery during the musical’s infamous production number “Springtime for Hitler”—the title of Liebkind’s script that producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom (Richardson Jones and Christopher Jewell Valentin) option for Broadway in the hope of mounting a guaranteed flop as a tax write-off—the result is one of the best versions of this extravaganza since the first sight of it shocked appreciative audiences in Brooks’ first non-musical classic film version in 1969.

All these years later, there’s still something to disgust everyone lacking a well-honed sense of humor in The Producers, from poking outrageous fun at Nazism to offending gay people with the depiction of the play-within-a-play’s drag-wearing director Roger De Bris and his light-in-the-stilettos Gloria Swanson-channeling assistant Carmen Ghia, here played to the hilt by the Celebration’s artistic director Michael A. Shepperd and Andrew Diego.

Why, there’s even something to shock Scandinavians as Bialystock and Bloom hire a buxom but talent-free amazonian secretary/assistant from Sweden named Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson (Mary Ann Welshans), who could singlehandedly send the #METOO movement back to the dark ages with her innocently lustful solo “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.”

The ensemble, the quartet of chorines mentioned above and three guys willing to occasionally double as chorines, is gamely on-the-money throughout. They are especially memorable in a wonderful rendition of “Along Came Bialy,” in which a chorusline of horny little old ladies Max is schtupping on a regular basis, “keeping his backers on their backs” to finance his projects, sing and dance while providing precision percussive accompaniment with their canes.

Diego is hysterical as the constantly posing Carmen, particularly in one overdramatic exit which lasts forever and ends with only his arm and hand visible as he scratches his nails down the wall leading offstage. Welshans is a delight as Ulla, though hardly traditionally cast since the original, Tony winner Cady Huffman, was about six-foot with breasts the size of Stockholm. Still, Welshans manages to make her lack of stature work beautifully, as perfectly empty-headed and English-challenged as Ulla needs to be.

The towering Shepperd as Roger, from his first appearance in costumer-goddess E.B. Brooks’ dazzlingly glittery couture version of a gown that perfectly evokes the Chrysler Building, is truly the highlight of this cast. From his initial belting of Roger’s anthem “Keep It Gay,” delivered stone-faced below a shocking-white Peggy Lee wig, to his golden impression of Judy Garland making love to her microphone cord, and culminating in his incredible turn as what I suspect might be the only African-American ever cast as der Fuhrer delivering a spirited “Springtime for Hitler,” Shepperd is nothing short of showstopping.

The only real conspicuous downside of all this is the casting of the two terminally goyish leading performers. Granted, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick—or Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in the original film—are all quintessentially hard acts to follow, but try as they will, no matter how much sweat they produce in their attempt to play the sheepish blankey-fettered Max and the bombastically obnoxious Leo, Valentin and Jones just don’t quite slice the pastrami.

This does not mean either of these performers is anything but a potentially dynamic musical theatre performer, only that both are badly miscast. Valentin is incredibly slick playing a nerd, his face possessed of all the endearingly silly mobility of Joe E. Brown as he defies his awkward physicality to impressively keep up as a dancer, but he is simply too young for the role and vocally not yet up for the task, although I suspect in about 15 years he could ace this role superbly.

Jones has impressive credits in musical theatre, just not the chops to find his way as the ridiculously over-the-top Max, something particularly apparent in “Betrayed,” the character’s 11th-hour musical soliloquy from his prison cell that singlehandedly netted Nathan Lane his second (of three) well-deserved Tony Awards. I would love to see Jones in a role better suited to his talents, but I say this with two caveats: next time, someone’s gotta tell him he doesn’t need to project to the second balcony of the Ahmanson when playing the teenytiny Lex, saving those gathered a nasty headache by final curtain, and secondly, if needed, the next presenters better hire a more demanding dialect coach.

Again, this doesn’t mean Valentin and Jones don’t have what it takes, just that both need a little more time to play these demanding and challenging roles intended for more seasoned and more mature actors.

Still, this revival of The Producers  is a must-see, once again a testament to the team that keeps turning out jaw-dropping, ingeniously scaled-down Lilliputian versions of huge productions no other intimate theatre company would ever attempt. I am firmly of the opinion that the gamely unflappable Celebration Theatre, especially with the inclusion of the visionary prestidigitation of director Michael Matthews, could take on War and Peace  and transform it with guaranteed success into a masterful production called Honey, I Shrunk the Napoleonic Wars.

THROUGH AUG. 26: Celebration Theatre, 6760 Lexington Av., Hollywood. 323.957.1884 or celebrationtheatre.com

See? I'm an angel.