By Phil Caycedo
With a packed house on their feet as the curtain closed on the farewell number “Goodbye,” the resounding applause begged to stay for more. Having seen the original Broadway production of “The Producers,” a record-breaking 12-time Tony Award-winning smash hit, I knew the ride I was in for.
What I didn’t expect, as a first-time John W. Engeman Theater at Northport audience member, was the caliber of the cast and overall production to be on par with the likes of the Great White Way.
This classic Mel Brooks comedic romp is a musical adapted from the 1968 film of the same name. “The Producers” tells the story of an unlikely partnership between Max Bialystock, a schemer and down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, a dreamer and a nerdy neurotic accountant, disenchanted with his job and station in life.
On a routine audit of Max’s books, it occurs to the pair that “under the right circumstances, a producer could actually make more money with a flop than he can with a hit.” Max proposes the ultimate scheme:
Step 1: Find the worst play ever written – “Springtime for Hitler”
Step 2: Hire the worst director in town
Step 3: Raise two million dollars.
Step 4: Hire the worst actors in New York and open on Broadway
Step 5: Close on Broadway, take our two million, and go to Rio.
Only one thing goes wrong: The show is a gigantic hit.
With a truly hilarious book co-written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan (“Annie”) and music and lyrics by Brooks, “The Producers” skewers Broadway tradition and takes no prisoners as it proudly proclaims itself an “equal opportunity offender.”
My hat goes off to the production team. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to adapt for the “small stage.” With limited space for such a large-scale production, Director Igor Goldin and Scenic Designer Daniel Willis pull off an exceptional flow to the show as the well-cast actors and seasoned dancers moved seamlessly through the vibrant, high-quality, multifunctional set pieces, accented with just the right amount of light. Choreographer Antoinette Dipietropolo impressively nailed signature numbers like “I Wanna Be A Producer” and “Along Came Bialy.” Rounding out the design team with distinctly detailed, fabulously eye-popping costumes is Kurt Alger who took the cake with “Springtime for Hitler.”
The principal roles are played by Broadway performer Stuart Zagnit as Max Bialystock and Joel Newsome as Leo Bloom – a role he played on the Broadway and the National tours. In roles originally played by Tony winners Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick, Zagnit and Newsome are able to find a nice balance between the originals and their own interpretation of the characters. Their awkward chemistry and unlikely friendship ultimately ground the show, with great voices to boot.
Outstanding supporting roles took each scene to the next level as the crescendo of laughter continued to build through until the very end. Standout performances I must mention are: Engeman veteran Gina Milo, playing Ulla, a love interest for Bloom, was the epitome of a Swedish bombshell and can belt with the best of them. John Plumpis as Franz Liebkind brought the Nazi German flare the show could not have done without. And last but certainly not least, the hilarious show-stopping, far-from-ambiguously gay, duo of Roger DeBris played by Ian Knauer and Carman Ghia played by Christopher Sloan milked the laughter until the utter was bone dry. If there was ever going to be a spin off they would get it.
Congratulations to the cast and crew on producing a must see! A number of season ticket holders after the show said this is one of the best Engeman has ever done.
Catch “The Producers” through July 12. The theater is located at 250 Main St. in Northport. Tickets are $69 and can be purchased at engemantheater.com.