Smithtown Matters Review: “The Producers”

SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2015 AT 6:52 PM

THEATER REVIEW – The Producers – Produced by: The John W. Engeman Theater – Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Stuart Zagnit, ‘Encore’ winner Gina Milo, and Joel Newsome – photo by Michael DeCristofaroAn inside joke is a gag whose humor is understandable primarily for members of anin group, that is, people who are part of a particular social set, profession, or other community of shared interest. In a sense, it’s an obscure witticism that is humorous mostly to those in the know about the circumstances behind it.

With that in mind, The Producers has to be considered one of the most daring, yet successful risks ever undertaken on the Broadway stage. The show succeeds (indeed excels!) because the magical Mel Brooks has made a slew of inside jokes very funny to any number of observers who never have, and never will, share the interests of those groups he addresses with his quips.

And there was another element of risk in the first staging of The Producers, it seems to me. Though well-received Broadway shows frequently are converted to motion pictures with a modicum of success, the reverse is seldom the case. The Great White Way is littered with torn-up scripts and discarded playbills that were inspired by triumphant movies…and consigned to the trash heap after opening night. Those involved in adapting The Producers for the stage had to be aware of the potential hazards involved in attempting to fill Hollywood’s big, glitzy shoes.

However, the genius of Mel Brooks was rewarded, as we all now know, when The Producers made history by winning a dozen Tony Awards, even surpassing the nearly four-decades-long record held then by Hello Dolly. That Carol Channing hit garnered eleven Tony nominations, winning ten. Furthermore The Producers demonstrated its staying power by running for more than (count ‘em) 2500 performances!

But how did Brooks manage to amuse so many different factions with material designed, it seems, to tickle the funny bones specifically of Gays, or Show Biz habitués, or even Nazi insiders? The answer, of course…he utilized the outrageous and the irreverent a la Imus, Stern, Limbaugh, Alan King et al. By so doing, Brooks appealed to our universal tendency to laugh at off-limits situations when they’re presented in the intimacy and privacy of the theater…scenarios that might not regale us in any other setting. Perhaps there should be a “No Prudes Allowed” sign over the Engeman door for the next six weeks.

Anyway…fasten your seat belts, folks…you’re off on a non-stop…rip-roaring ride at The Engeman Theater from now thru July 12. One caveat: find something else to entertain the 12-and-under crowd for the three hours you’ll be laughing yourself silly.

Your madcap driver on this careening theatrical roller coaster is Stuart Zagnit who plays the screwball ‘Max Bialystock’ (created on Broadway by Nathan Lane) and Joel Newsome is our zany tour guide ‘Leo Bloom’ (originated at the St. James Theater by Matthew Broderick). Both of the well-traveled leads at The Engeman take up where their megastar predecessors left off…with perfectly timed, comedic characterizations that are top-notch. And Gina Milo is a red-hot riot as the delectable ‘Ulla- – voluptuous ‘secretary-slash-receptionist’ (yeahsure!) for the whacky producer team.

Igor Goldin, who directed the Engeman’s Encore Award-winning Music Man in 2013, is at the helm for The Producers, and the cast couldn’t be in better hands. Goldin has his mile-a-minute machine perfectly tuned—it purrs like a kitten when appropriate, and roars like a lion when suitable.

Antoinette Dipietropolo’s choreography is predictably well-ordered and delightfully inventive, and the Musical Director, James Olmstead, with whom Dipietropolo frequently teams up, never fails to add his wealth of professionalism to any Richard Dolce produced show.

But this classic production is not dependent on elaborate Set, Lighting, Sound, Costumes, and the like, though they’re all superb in the ultra-lavish show. What really makes The Producers a slam-bang, cheeky, waggishly shocking hit is the assortment of inside jokes that Mel Brooks (the self-proclaimed ‘equal opportunity offender’) throws around like so many hand grenades…while taking absolutely no prisoners.

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