The Producers

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The Producers  

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ, October 12, 2016

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

(L-R) David Josefsberg (Leo) and Michael Kostroff (Max) Photo: Billy Bustamante
(L-R) David Josefsberg (Leo) and
Michael Kostroff (Max)
Photo: Billy Bustamante

I loved the original Broadway production of The Producers starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It was one of my favorite Broadway shows of the last 20 years; I saw it repeatedly throughout its Broadway run.  It deserved all of the many Tony Awards it won.

I wanted very much to love the production of The Producers that is currently running at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. But it doesn’t quite work—at least, not the way the original Broadway production did. And I left with decidedly mixed feelings. Oh! This big, bright musical is  handsomely produced. Don Stephenson is credited with re-creating Susan Stroman’s original direction; Bill Burns is credited with re-creating Stroman’s original choreography. And it’s a treat to see again such irresistible production numbers as “The King of Broadway” and “Springtime for Hitler,” just as Stroman so masterfully originally staged them.

There are  plenty of laughs in the show; the script by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (based on Brooks’ famed  film of the same name) still packs more laughs than the script of any other Broadway musical of the past 20 years. And if an evening with lots of laughs is all you’re asking for, you won’t be disappointed.

But the original Broadway production had more than just laughs. It had heart, it had pathos, it had nuance—and those elements are missing here. And, of course, it had two of our best musical-comedy stars, delivering star turns. This production has competent players in the lead roles, skating over the surface of the material in a highly professional fashion.

It’s not the same thing. The actors in this production playing the  two main roles—Michael Kostroff as Max Bialystock and David Josefsberg as Leo Bloom—do a decent job; they hit the laugh-lines hard and they get the laughs. I liked them. But there are moments when they seem to disappear into the ensemble. They don’t have enough presence, and their characterizations seem more one-note than those created by Lane and Broderick. As producers striving to make money from a flop, they come across as ambitious schemers. But we don’t feel for them, connect with them, root for them the way we should.

Broderick’s performance was beautifully layered, so we sensed his gentle pathos no less than his ambition. And Lane, playing a crooked producer whose “glory days” were never that glorious, was an endearing crook. That “endearing” quality is missing here, and it makes a big difference.

I liked very much John Treacy Egan’s performance as the demented playwright Franz Liebkind. His portrayal was right on the money. And Kevin Pariseau and Mark Price had their moments as director Roger De Bris and his “common-law assistant,” Carmen Ghia.

I laughed a lot. Had I never seen the original Broadway production, I might have left the theater contented. But the original production showed us what this musical comedy could be. And this production feels, at times, like a pale copy.  

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: