‘Producers’ at Paper Mill great start to new season

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Paper Mill Playhouse has launched its 2016-17 season with “The Producers” and will follow it with the U.S. premiere of “The Bodyguard.”

First, a hit Broadway musical winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards and ran for six years. (“Hamilton” had the most Tony Award nominations-16.)

Second, a musical based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 movie that first was staged in London (2012-14), launches its national tour in Millburn (Nov. 25 to Jan. 1) starring Grammy Award-nominated R&B singer Deborah Cox and, one assumes, eventually will make its way to Broadway.

What a great way for the 77-year-old theater — the recipient of the 2016  Regional Theatre Tony Award — to start the season.

For those who haven’t seen the original production of “The Producers” or another production, or the movie version, will find a lot to laugh at, a lot to enjoy, and a lot to love about the show that features music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, a book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with Susan Stroman’s original direction recreated by Don Stephenson and and her original choreography recreated by Bill Burns.

There are, of course, Nazi stormtroopers creating a Busby Berkeley-like human swastika, ogling of “hot” secretary Ulla, sexist jokes, gay jokes, Jewish jokes, all created by Brooks, who is descended from German, Polish and Russian Jews. If he can’t make fun of Naziis, no one can. But that doesn’t mean some people might be offended. But mostly, I think, they will be laughing.

Michael Kostroff as Max (left) and David Josefsberg Leo in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of "The Producers. (Photo by Jerry Dalia)
Michael Kostroff as Max (left) and David Josefsberg Leo in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “The Producers. (Photo by Jerry Dalia)

This is the seventh time Michael Kostroff, of HBO’s “The Wire” (five seasons), is portraying Max Bialystock, a role he understudied on the first national tour of “The Producers.”

Leo Bloom is played by David Josefsberg (who was featured here in both “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Honeymoon in Vegas”).

They don’t have the same natural rhythm and easiness with each other as dream-team Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick had on Broadway. Maybe that’s not fair to say as   Kostroff and Josefsberg, individually, were fine. They just never seemed to gel, like they were off by a beat. At the performance I attended, Kostroff seemed in a hurry to deliver lines during their get-together scene when accountant Leo arrives to check the books and producer Max is desperate after another one of his shows closed on opening night.

Which, of course, results in the idea that if you raised much more money than you need to stage a show you could walk away with millions of dollars IF you could guarantee it would flop. What could go wrong? Well …

Kostroff deftly handles “Betrayed,” an Act Two gem. A solo number sung in jail, Max recounts everything that has happened in the show so far, including a pause for the intermission, bitter that Leo has deserted him.

"The Producers" at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Ashley Spencer as Ulla. (Photo: Billy Bustamante)
Ashley Spencer as Ulla. (Photo: Billy Bustamante)

Ashley Spencer as Swedish bombshell Ulla is superb, especially when belting in “When You Got It, Flaunt It.”

Kevin Pariseu as Roger De Bris, the worst director ever, is so much fun to watch it’s hard to notice anyone else on stage — except when Mark Price’s Carmen Ghia walks across the stage, says anything, and stretches out his exits.

John Treacy Egan’s Franz Liebkind, author of “Springtime for Hitler,” and trainer of pigeons that give Nazi salutes, and worshiper of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler, is excellent.

But, to be honest, I came away with true admiration for the 14 members of the chorus who played multiple parts, executed multiple costume changes, and all showed up in Little Old Lady Land tap dancing with walkers for “Along Came Bialy.”

The company of "The Producers" at Paper Mill Playhouse. (Photo: Billy Bustamante)
The company of “The Producers” at Paper Mill Playhouse. (Photo: Billy Bustamante)

They are: Jacob ben Widmar, Michael Biren, Courtney Brady, Tim Capodice, Jesse Carrey-Beaver, Scott Cote, Madeleine Doherty, Hannah Flam, Brad Frenette, John Jeffords, Jeffrey Johnson II, Naomi Kakuk, Jenny Laroche, Liz McKendry, Kelly Peterson, Emily Jeanne Phillips, Jessica Sheridan, and Kate Wesler, AND they are incredible.


“The Producers” continues through Oct. 23 at the Paper Mill Playhouse Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 8:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm.

Tickets start at $32 and available at 973-376-4343; at the Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, and online at http://www.PaperMill.org. 

Groups of 10 or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680.  Students may order $20 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office on the day of the performance.