The Producers is old-school musical comedy gold. Following the antics of two men who set out to produce the worst show in town so they can pocket the rest of the money, the night is filled with lots of glam, glitz, schtick, and hilarity. One of the hottest tickets in town during its time, winning a record 12 Tony awards, has had Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography wonderfully recreated by Bill Burns and Don Stephenson (respectively) at a venue holding its very own Tony award- New Jersey’s own Papermill Playhouse. Robin Wagner’s scenery and William Ivey Long’s costumes were also based on the record-breaking production’s original designs, but still feel dazzling. While all of the designs are incredible, the main draw is the brilliant and hilarious cast.
With so many elements harkening to the 2001 show it is impossible not to draw comparisons, particularly to its two stars. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are synonymous with The Producers, but the two men taking on the roles here handle them remarkably. Michael Kostroff tackles “that slimy, sleazy” Max Bialystock opposite David Josefberg’s Leo Bloom. This dynamic duo has great chemistry and talent between them, working wonderfully together to take on their iconic roles in a way that alludes to Lane and Broderick while still making it their own. Kostroff particularly stands out in the monstrous second-act number “Betrayed”, which he hilariously remarks mid-song as a “son-of-a-bitch”, and Josefberg’s “I Wanna Be a Producer” dazzles as he is flanked by the very talented members of the ensemble.
While the titular couple lead the show spectacularly, it’s the featured colorful cast of characters that steal the scenes. Ashley Spencer’s Ulla is super Swedish, stretching out vowels to the extreme. While slightly difficult to understand at times, her Ulla is sweet, sultry, and spectacular. Spencer draws one of the biggest applauses of the night as she belts incredibly in “If You Got it Flaunt it”, her voice stunning and powerful. The Nazi pigeon-loving Franz Liebkind is given a gruff treatment by John Treacy Egan, who finds a nice balance with the character’s sensitive moments with his birds (which provided hilarious backup during “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop”) and his more aggressive side. Some of the funniest moments come courtesy of the fabulous Kevin Pariseau and Mark Price as Roger De Bris and Carmen Ghia (respectively). Price’s elongated “S’sssss” is hyssssssterical and he certainly knows how to exit the room. Pariseau’s turn as the führer in the standout “Springtime for Hitler” is captivating and utterly marvelous, with the 10-minute number being a major highlight of the evening.
While a show that most theatergoers have seen and loved, Papermill’s production adds plenty of nuances to make it their own, at the same time still providing the iconic moments you expect to see. Many members of the cast have performed in The Producers in one of its various iterations, whether the original, tour, film, etc. and their expertise and closeness to the show allow for an expert handling of the material, knowing what to take liberties with and make things fresh, and milking every moment they can for as much laughs as possible.
The Producers is certainly a fun night at the theatre; it is impossible to leave without a smile on your face. The energy in the room from the performers to audience is infectious and exuberant, putting everyone in a good mood. If you’re looking for an evening filled with laughs check out 2016’s recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, which provides Broadway-quality entertainment right in New Jersey, where a classic show has been brought to life again. Running now through October 23, make sure you head over to Paper Mill Playhouse before this riot says “Goodbye!” for good!
Review by April Sigler
Photos by Billy Bustamante