Paper Mill Playhouse - Millburn, NJ - October 2016
Review by John Kenrick
The photos below are used with the permission of Paper Mill Playhouse.
Oh mercy, how good it is to laugh until it hurts--especially in a Presidential election year like this one! Paper Mill Playhouse just received a richly deserved Tony Award for its outstanding accomplishments as a regional theatre. So what more appropriate way could there be for them to start their season than with a spirited, hilarious production of the most Tony-winning musical of all time, The Producers?
With the original sets, costumes, direction and choreography (as seen on the national tour), Paper Mill audiences are getting everything that delighted Broadway in 2001. And best of all, director Don Stephenson sees to it that they also get a cast that captures the spirit of the original production while giving fresh and delightful performances--avoiding any tired imitations of what worked for others before. This production also wisely makes no cuts or changes. If the outragous jokes here offend anyone, in my opinion, good--they had it coming!
Of course, the comic genius of Mel Brooks is the key factor -- the opening night audience even welcomed his pre-recorded voice (heard momentarily in "Springtime for Hitler") with applause. He teamed with veteran librettist Thomas Meehan to turn his Academy Award-winning 1967 screenplay into pure Broadway gold. The story of a rundown producer teaming with an accountant to earn millions by defrauding investors and intentionally presenting a musical flop gave Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and their co-stars two and a half hours of laughs to deliver with style.
Frankly, I found that later Broadway casts were not nearly as much fun -- perhaps because they were trying far too hard to echo the original performances. And that approach never works.
As the amoral producer Max Bialystock, Michael Kostoroff uses first-rate comic timing to make the part his own. As the mousy Leo Bloom, David Josefsberg is the perfect foil -- these two lead a cast that gradually builds the comic power of each scene so that this musical comedy just keeps getting funnier. And they make the friendship of these two characters utterly believeable -- a crucial factor in this show.
The supporting cast is solidly entertaining. Standouts include Ashley Spencer, a vocal and visual knockout as the insanely sexy Ulla, Mark Price a campy delight as Carmen Ghia, Madeline Doherty as a scene-stealingly horny senior, and John Treacy Egan as Nazi playwright Frank Liebkind. And as the inept director Roger De Bris, Kevin Pariseau made the Judy Garland spoof in "Springtime for Hitler" a total hoot.
And speaking of that beloved showstopper, "Springtime" is as hysterical and irresistible as ever. The entire score has never sounded better. Kudos to musical director James Moore and the orchestra, which sounded twice its size and provided dazzling accompaniment. And Bill Burns recreates Susan Strohman's original choreography with brio -- if you have forgotten how delicious the old ladies with tapping walkers are in "Along Came Bialy," this production will have you howling with delight.
If you have forgotten the healing power of gut-shaking laughter, Paper Mill's revival of The Producers will do you good. This is the hit show that brought musical comedy back to Broadway, and this production is a superb example of why Paper Mill is a cultural treasure.
This production runs through October 23, 2016.