Director Don Stephenson’s The Producers at Paper Mill Playhouse is delightful, effervescent and dare I say, better than the Broadway production? The cast is flawless with David Josefsberg (On Broadway in An Act of God, Honeymoon in Vegas, Les Misérables, Motown, The Wedding Singer) as the definitive Leo Bloom. He is a cross between the late great Gene Wilder and Matthew Broderick, who originated the musical role. Josefsberg layers in beats making Leo real and vulnerable. Josefsberg’s level of detail is hilarious and yet he moves like Fred Astaire. Michael Kostroff ( HBO’s classic “The Wire” Disney’s “Sonny with a Chance.”), as Max, is the perfect foil allowing and setting up Josefsberg line after line. The Producers doesn’t disappoint. Mel Brooks’s musical makes a play of trashing theatrical convention, as Max Bialystock re-enacts the entire show, intermission included, towards the end of the show and it is a tour de force for Mr. Kostroff and a highlight for the show.
It is actually hard to choose one favorite moment from the sublimely ridiculous spectacle that opened last night. Mel Brooks’s stage adaptation of his own cult movie from 1968 The Producers, won 12 Tony Awards. If you grew up in the 1960’s or saw the Broadway show, you probably know the plot. Max Bialystock (Mr. Kostroff), a down on his luck Broadway producer of Broadway flops, meets Leopold Bloom (Mr. Josefsberg’), a shy and unhappy public accountant who is as repressed. The two cooks up a scam, to produce the worst musical in history and have it fail. They sell more than 1,000 percent and plan to skip town. Their choice is a play celebrating Hitler by Franz Liebkind (The hilarious John Tracey Eagan), a pigeon-keeping Nazi, called ”Springtime for Hitler.”For the worst of all possible directors? A theater queen to end all theater queens, Roger De Bris (Kevin Pariseau), in a ballgown and headdress that he worries makes him look like the Chrysler Building and “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Mark Price). And then there’s Ulla (Ashley Spencer), the ultimate Swedish secretary who oozes sex.
Add to this dancing Nazi storm troopers, Third Reich Pigeons, oversexed little old ladies using their aluminum walkers to tap-dance and you are in musical theatre heaven.
Eagan, Pariseau, Price and Spencer are all at the top of their game and shine in their moments, delivering in spades.
The sets by Robin Wagner and costumes by William Ivey Long are based on the Broadway production and they are superb. Lighting by john Lasiter is spot on. The original choreography re-created by Bill Burns is high kicking and inventive.
In a year of “Politically Correctness,” Paper Mill Playhouse’s The Producers adds sheer chutzpah and joy. Worth a train ride away.
The Producers: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ until Oct. 23