From June 19th to July 10th, one of the most widely praised and watched musicals of all time will make its World Yiddish Premiere at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. Presented by the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, Canada’s oldest Yiddish-language theatre company, in association with the META award-winning Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, this highly anticipated production of the The Producers is the biggest Segal show this season and it’s bound to close it with a bang.
Interview & Preview Article by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
“The King of Broadway” musicals, The Producers to this day holds the record for most Tony Award wins (12), and justly so. Film director Mel Brooks’ uproarious stage adaptation of his Academy Award-winning 1968 movie of the same title met all expectations of critics and theater audiences when it hit the Big White Way with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick back in 2001. Even if tastefully poking fun at Jews, homosexuals, little old ladies, and everyone and everything in between, the show is so much more than the mere sum of its outrageously ridiculous parts.
A laugh-out-loud satire of the world of showbiz, The Producers is a comedy about two eccentric theatrical producers, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, who come up with a get-rich-quick scheme by putting on the worst musical of all time – titled Springtime for Hitler – written by an escaped Nazi. The most unlikely of duos, the story centres around Max and Leo’s budding bromance in their quest for financial fortune. When their presumed sure-fire flop unexpectedly turns out to be a smash hit on Broadway, however, the partners’ plan to collect the cold cash from investors and run off to Rio goes awry and their lives are suddenly thrown into complete chaos.
Featuring a cast of 40 (including veteran performers and new talents combined from the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre and Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society), the production is directed by CSLDS Artistic Director Anisa Cameron, who here makes her Yiddish language theatre directorial debut. It’s the first time both associations have joined forces and resources to collaborate – and it’s the most ambitious project for the CSLDS to date.
“But it’s in Yiddish?!”
Fret not: English and French surtitles will be available at all performances.
“We want audiences to know this is an extremely accessible piece of theatre. Surtitles will be projected onstage during any Yiddish dialogue, so you’ll be able to understand everything that is going on. Furthermore, a great deal of the performance is actually still in English. We made the decision on where the Yiddish is in the show depending on the characters,” explains Cameron (the two male leads, for example, converse exclusively in Yiddish.)
On taking on the language risk: “The Yiddish element marries so well with the show; Mel Brooks has really steeped in the Yiddish humour tradition. It’s also impressive how the team of translators managed to stay true to Brooks’ book and lyrics,” she reflects (Miriam Hoffman, Raizel Candib, and Aron Gonshor have dutifully taken on the hefty translation work).
2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the original film. “When you think about the fact that Mel Brooks was only 35 when he wrote and directed this amazing piece of work that has withstood the test of time and had many incarnations, it’s staggering. What we have strived to do with this production is honour Brooks’ genius while also keeping the community in mind. We’re paying homage to both the film and musical,” reveals Anisa.
Her utmost personal challenge in bringing this grandiose production to the Segal stage?: “Relinquishing control.” As resident artistic director of the Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society and the respected Bialik High School Theatre Program, Anisa is well-accustomed to wearing multiple hats. “Here, however, we have experts in every single area. Seeing all of these master craftsmen work as they do, it’s become easier to entrust others with that responsibility. It’s been a true honour working with professionals such as Luc Prairie, our brilliant lighting designer, as well as the rest of the creative team (rounded out by Jeremy Gordaneer – Set Designer, Louise Bourret – Costume Designer, and Peter Balov – Sound Designer). Our stage management team (Birdie Gregor, Stephen Alarie, Jordan Beaulieu) is just insane. We also have Jonathan Patterson, our fabulous choreographer, who also stars in the show as the flamboyantly gay director Roger de Bris. And then there’s Nick Burgess, who may just be the greatest musical director in this industry.
There’s days where I’ll just sit in the dark of the theatre and cry in gratitude of this experience and all of these wonderful people. Lisa Rubin (Artistic & Executive Director of the Segal Centre) has so generously given us this gift, and we’re not taking it for granted.”
The Producers has heart – not only in the form of the visionary director herself, but within the sentimental story of this oddball couple of characters. “You can’t help but watch these two guys frantically trying to pull off this huge fraud and not get emotionally invested in their relationship. You end up wanting them to either succeed or make it happen because you love them so much,” expresses Anisa.
In explaining what she hopes audiences will take away from the theatregoing experience: “Great theatre is a point of interaction and opens dialogue, conversation, communication. A great marker is when you leave the theatre feeling compelled to share that moment with your friends and family or to reenact it. In that way, it becomes an interactive, performative experience. This is a brilliant, important piece of art – and musical theatre is art.”
With a creative dream team and powerhouse ensemble of performers, musicians and technicians, there’s no foreseeable flop in the future for these folks. The Producers – A New Mel Brooks Musical in Yiddish! plays at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, from June 19 to July 10, 2016. Tickets begin at $44 and can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 514-739-7944. For more information, head over to segalcentre.org.