MILLBURN, NJ – What do you get when you to put together dancing Nazi Storm Troopers, a gay director and a greedy Jewish theater producer from the Bronx? Add to that an oversexed immigrant secretary from Sweden, a “Black Irish” cop and the Village People. No, it’s not an acid-laced Halloween party in bizarro world or a combined campaign rally of Trump and Clinton supporters. It’s opening night of The Producers at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ.
The ingeniously clever, Tony Award-winning musical that insults, without really insulting, had its opening performance last night at the Paper Mill Playhouse followed by a cast party at Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill in downtown Millburn. The deliberately raucous and raunchy musical was refreshing to watch and thoroughly entertaining, particularly since so much social commentary these days have gone over to the dark side of politically correctness. The no holds barred script and the ever so talented cast poked fun at practically everyone and every institution, even the Paper Mill (you’ll have to see for yourself).
Those who have seen the musical that opened on Broadway in 2001 with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick or the 1968 satirical comedy film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder won’t be disappointed as the essence of Mel Brooks’ manic imagination and genius remained wonderfully in tact. The show also retained Paper Mill veteran Susan Stroman’s fantastic original direction and choreography, where she won two of the record-breaking 12 Tonys won by the musical in 2001.
This Broadway classic tells the tale of Max Bialystock (Michael Kostroff), a struggling theater producer and his protégé/accountant Leo Bloom (David Josefsberg) as they raise $2 million from old, sex starved ladies, to produce the worst musical ever to be seen on Broadway, with the hope of failing so miserably that they could walk away with the oversubscribed investments of the show’s backers.
The two manage to secure the exclusive rights to the worst script they could find written by former Nazi Franz Liebkind (John Treacy Egan) and convince the flamboyantly gay and worst director to have ever lived Roger De Bris (Kevin Pariseau) to direct. With script in hand and help from Roger De Bris’s “common law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Mark Price) and Max’s secretary Ulla (Ashley Spencer), the motely crew are well on their way to produce the greatest fiasco on Broadway. Unfortunately, their ridiculous and offensive musical, Springtime for Hitler, becomes a hit!
It seems nearly every scene is filled with song and dance. Under the brilliant direction of Don Stephenson and amazing choreography of Bill Burns, the multi-talented cast pulls off every number with seamless effort and as if they’ve been doing it for years. In fact, Michael Kostroff has done The Producers for years and several times, seven times to be exact. He brings incredible energy to the role of Max. The most amazing evidence of this, if I had to pick just one scene, is when he lands in prison and recants to himself his journey there. Evoking the same emotions from previous scenes Kostroff performs a trailer of sorts, combining lines from many earlier scenes into one. Kostroff treated us to a Tony Award-winning performance.
David Josefsberg is new to The Producers, performing the role of Leo Bloom for the first time, though you wouldn’t know it. The Broadway and Paper Mill veteran made Leo an empathetic, quirky and funny character, someone we can all connect with emotionally. Can’t get his “I want to be a producer” song out of my head. By the way, Josefsberg is a local boy too. He lives in South Orange!
Ashley Spencer certainly has “got it” and “flaunts it” with a loveable style and undeniable charm. Playing Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson (and that’s just the first name), you couldn’t keep your eyes off her when this formally trained ballet dancer took to the stage.
The crazy, Nazi screenwriter Franz Liebkind who wrote “Springtime for Hitler” is played by John Treacy Egan, a five-year veteran of the Broadway company and who has played several parts in past productions including Franz, Max and Roger. Incredible voice and convincingly funny, especially when he’s on crutches and has a Lugar in his hand.
By far the most hilarious and witty pair to take the stage is Kevin Pariseau and Mark Price playing the roles of Roger De Bris and Carmen Ghia, respectively. The one-liners and comebacks kept the entire audience in stitches; I haven’t laughed that hard at a show in years. Pariseau’s costume resembling the Chrysler Building showing his off his hairy, unshaved legs; Price’s unforgettable hand gesture when going off stage and his unique gait were priceless.
Obvious credit for the popularity of The Producers goes certainly to its creator and comedic legend Mel Brooks. However, what made the experience at the Paper Mill so especially wonderful and set it apart from every production of The Producers I’ve seen is the unique collaboration of new and veteran actors of the show, and even some from the original company. This was Paper Mill’s first-ever production of The Producers and they’ve certainly put their personal touch on this Broadway classic. It truly is a CAN’T MISS show. BRAVO!