By Charles J. Morgan
The musical “The Producers” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last week and did not disappoint. Adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, it tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock.
Once nicknamed the “King of Broadway,” Bialystock has recently produced a series of turkeys (“…the critics left at intermission”); so he must produce a hit or go broke. His easily swayed, near psychotic auditor Leopold Bloom shows him how to make millions by producing a flop! Both rummage through a pile of manuscripts until they find one entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” extolling the virtues of the Nazi party. Putting this one on had to be a failure! Off they go in search of the author and to find an “angel.”
Stuart Zagnit and Joel Newsome played the hilarious plotters as Max and Leo, respectively. They were so contrasted as the Machiavellian hard-as-nails fixer to the trembling, quivering weaker partner who still carries a piece of his infant security blanket. Both have lively tenor voices — Zagnit the mighty organ, Newsome the exquisite violin.
Gina Milo, as Ulla the voluptuary, had all the right (and left) moves, topping this panoply of pleasure with a powerful soprano. Her “If You Got It, Flaunt It” number expressed it all.
The two plotters find their author in Franz Liebkind played by John Plumpis — a wacko Nazi in Luftwaffe steel helmet, imitation jackboots and a stick — he is all over the boards intoning a somewhat mangled German accent but coming on quite strong in Act II’s “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” and in Act II’s “Haben Sie Gehört Das Deutsche Band?”
The gay community is well represented with Roger DeBris, handled smoothly by Ian Knauer, and Carmen Ghia, played languidly by Christopher Sloan. Knauer is well over the two-yard mark, leading one to believe that height was a requisite. Why? Because the height of the lissome female ensemble only added to their beauty, referring to Emily Blake Anderson, Molly Jean Blodgett, Mary Callahan and Laura Otremba. A marvelous performance, especially those kicks.
Choreography was by the ubiquitous and deeply talented Antoniette DiPietropolo with direction by Igor Goldin. DiPietropolo had a massive job on her hands. The cast was large and the ensemble equally so. Yet, as usual, she brought out a clear terpsichorean reality, including one done in walkers. Goldin was similarly charged with clear individualization and interpretation of characters. He succeeded handily.
At this juncture your scribe must reveal his impressions of the show’s music. James Olmstead leads a six-piece outfit featuring the incomparable Joe Boardman on trumpet, the trombones of Brent Chiarello and Frank Hall, Russ Brown on bass, Mark Katz on reeds and Josh Endlich on percussion driving it along.
Boardman has a tone redolent of Charlie Shavers with a whiff of Dizzy Gillespie. The sound of gunshots in Act II was actually rimshots by Endlich. Talk about accurate cuing. In fact, after final curtain this group did a little jamming. Your scribe was loath to leave his seat so much was he enjoying a trip down 52nd Street in the late forties.
This was a beautifully mounted production — something the Engeman is quite good at.
The John W. Engeman Theater will present “The Producers” through July 12. Tickets are $69. For more information, please call the box office at 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.