Jason Had a Good Time, Critic Didn't

05/30/2003 10:47AM

Los Angeles finally has its own Hitler, as Mel Brooks's 2-year-old screamingly satirical -- and astonishingly successful -- Broadway musical finally opened in Southern California Thursday night, starring Jason Alexander and Martin Short in the roles launched in New York by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

The West Coast production even includes a crack -- from Alexander -- about the overwhelmingly long shadow of the Broadway version. While imitating the intermission chatter of bored theatergoers, Alexander's quips: "Yeah, he's good ... but he's no Nathan Lane."

Somehow, though, the line appears to have triggered something in Los Angeles Times critic Reed Johnson, who cited it as one of the very wrong things about the show, which he didn't care for at all -- finding it over the top (even Mel Brooks would probably admit that) and uncomfortably retro.

Writing of Alexander, who plays desperate impresario Max Bialystock, the critic writes in Friday morning's editions: "He and the rest of this production's cast are so desperately eager to please that they practically French kiss the front row."

Of the show itself, Johnson opines: "'The Producers,' in its current L.A. incarnation, may become this year's version of 'Rent,' another Times Square darling that lost something of its reputed bite and charm during the long cross-country haul."

Not that his opinion seems to have hampered Thursday night's festive atmosphere at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

"We had a great time tonight, we really did," Alexander, 43, told the Associated Press after the performance. "Sometimes it's like climbing a mountain but tonight it was walking on air."

Tom Hanks, who attended the opening with his wife, actress Rita Wilson, said of the performance: "Uh, five stars out of four." Other stars in attendance included Alec Baldwin, Goldie Hawn and Billy Crystal.

Brooks, 76, took to the stage at the end of the performance and thanked the cast and crew for bringing it out West.

"I'm very moved, and I don't get moved easily. I'm very touched," he said, his voice cracking. Glancing at his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, in the audience, he added: "I never cry, do I Anne?"

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