Mel Brooks’ award winning musical comedy “The Producers” based on his 1968 film has been winningly and lovingly revived at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. Given our geo-political climate, there is nothing more rewarding and nurturing than tucking into a familiar favorite with a bright, charming cast; spectacular dancing; and feeling one’s face smiling and chest heaving laughter as Mr. Brooks’ show. The Mel Brooks musical features a book written by Thomas Meehan and Mr. Brooks, with music and lyrics by Mr. Brooks and original direction and amazing choreography by Susan Stroman.
For those new to the production, Max Bialystock is a fading producer. His best days and productions are behind him. So much so the theater rigs a sign especially for his shows – one that easily flips from opening night to closing night. Max’s productions are funded by a loving set of older women who he romances with a back “filled with denture marks.” His accountant Leo Bloom quickly realizes they can make more money from a flop than a hit. A plan is hatched and Leo’s dream of becoming a Broadway producer is quickly realized – once they find the worst script, director, choreographer, lighting designer, and performers. This a fun, old fashioned musical romp with amazing performances, very well-executed costumes and totally politically incorrect gags.
The production is filled with an immense sense of fun and some high-wattage compelling performances. Michael Kostroff’s is definitely (and thankfully) his own Bialystock. With bulging eyes akin to Brooks’ crony Marty Feldman but his stamina, supple voice, way with a gag, and expressions make this Max resilient, charming, and entertaining. This is difficult considering the legacy of original Broadway and film star Nathan Lane and the 1968 film’s Zero Mostel. David Josefsberg as Leo Bloom has a wonderful voice and subtle charm. While his acting immediately calls to mind Matthew Broderick, Josefsberg holds his own especially in scenes with Kostroff and the lovely, winsome Ashley Spencer as Swedish bombshell secretary/receptionist/actress Ulla. She has a lovely singing voice. The Swedish accent jokes are underwhelming especially with her droll, slow delivery which plays like ripping off a band aid – you know its coming and it hurts in the moment.
Kevin Pariseau is a hoot as Roger De Bris – director of the show within a show. He’s got a beautiful singing voice and a boisterous presence well matched by his “common law assistant” Mark Price. John Tracey Eagen reboards the show as playwright Franz Liebken replete with pigeon puppets and a killer characterization. Eagen played many parts during the show’s Broadway run.
Papermill’s production is directed by Don Stephenson with musical direction by James Moore and choreographed by Bill Burns. The Producers gleeful utter disrespect is key to its enduring charm – especially in this rich, highly entertaining, engaging production. The precision of the direction and choreography, amazing costumes by William Ivey Long and scenic design by Robin Wagner equally contribute with the pert, expert performances to make a wonderful night out. Go laugh and enjoy yourself. You deserve it.