Review: “The Producers” at the Segal Centre

Receiving its uproarious World Yiddish Premiere, The Producers plays until July 10, 2016

Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier
Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier

The renowned Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) and the META award-winning Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society (CSLDS) have joined forces for the first time to present a compulsively entertaining theatrical production of comic veteran Mel Brooks’ ’68 cult film, ’01 stage adaptation, and ’05 movie musical, “The Producers”. Playing to Montreal audiences until July 10th, it’s the last show of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts‘ current theatre season until the 2016-17 season begins in September later this year.

Read our previously published preview/interview
of the show with director Anisa Cameron here

With original music and lyrics by Mel Brooks and book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, The Producers is, to self-quote, “a satiric masterpiece”. Under the direction of Anisa Cameron (who here makes her formidable Yiddish language theatre directorial debut) and musical direction of Nick Burgess, the stellar cast of 40 performers and 7 musicians bring to bursting life the outlandish story (and beloved bromance) of two down-to-luck producers, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom – made household names, respectively, by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

Sam Stein and Mikey Samra in The Producers. Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier
Sam Stein as Max Bialystock and Mikey Samra as Leo Bloom in The Producers. Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier.

DWYT veteran and master comic Sam Stein triumphantly leads the troupe as Max Bialystock, the hapless but relentless producer clamouring for a new show to put him back on the scene (“Keneg Fun Broadvay/King of Broadway“). Things begin to take a turn when Mr. Bialystock is visited by the timorous, stage-struck accountant Leo Bloom, here faultlessly portrayed by a wide-eyed and loveable Mikey Samra. Bloom, in earnest pursuit of his own dreams of becoming a business mogul, proposes and eventually follows through with a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme to purposely produce the worst musical of all time and run off to Rio with the failed show’s raised funds (“M’et Es Makhn/We Can Do It” and “Ikh Vil Zayn A Producer/I Wanna Be a Producer”).

Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier
As the two unlikely partners-in-crime, Samra and Stein fortunately have the opposites-attract kind of chemistry that is fundamentally required for the play to work; their performances are truly commendable for the collaborative spirit – and stamina. Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier

Searching for the most cringe-worthy script of all time, the duo proceed to purchase the rights to Springtime for Hitler, a musical written by the deranged and escaped Nazi Franz Liebken (played with great gusto by Elan Kunin in “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop”); subsequently, they hire the worst director in New York, the flamboyant Roger De Bris (brought to bodacious and bombastic life by Jonathan Patterson in “Keep it Gay”); finally, with a bit of help from the Swedish goddess/artiste Ulla – whom they initially hire as a secretary (the uber sweet and sultry Alisha Ruiss delivers all the goods in “When You Got It Flaunt It”) – they’re off and running. That is, until all plans disastrously hit the skids.

Photo Gallery

“It’s really in Yiddish!” – Max, in a memorable meta moment.

Well, yes – and no.

So how much of the show is in Yiddish, really?

While any interaction strictly between the two main characters is in Yiddish, the show appears to balanced by an equal amount of English-language dialogue and musical numbers. Don’t let the Yiddish intimidate you – the show is easily accessible and any foreign-language action is accompanied by surtitles in both English and French. (Credits to Miriam Hoffman, Raizel Candib, and Aron Gonshor for the translations for this production.)

“Where did we go right?” 

In this eccentric musical-within-a-musical, the only thing that goes astray is the protagonists’ multi-million dollar plot to make money by overselling shares of the potential profit of their purposeful Broadway flop. Satisfyingly, the actual show is anything but the very latter.

From director Anisa Cameron’s ability to capture the fizzy showbiz joy that permeates the musical to Jonathan Patterson’s heartstopping choreography in elaborate numbers such as “Along Came Bialy” and “Springtime for Hitler”, there’s nothing not to like about the farcical The ProducersSure, it’s over-the-top, but the story inherently calls for razzle-dazzle; among designer Jeremy Gordaneer’s titanic set, Louise Bourret’s deliciously gaudy and glittery costumes, and Luc Prairie’s rich and colour-rendering lighting, no creative or technical element of the spectacle disappoints (with perhaps the exception of some slightly chaotic transitions).

The cast of The Producers. Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier
Highlight of the Night: While The Producers is consecutively chock-full of side-splitting moments from beginning to end, Jonathan Patterson gives a standout, high-wattage performance as the impossibly camp director Roger de Bris. Ryan Kligman, who glowingly takes on the role of Roger’s lover/assistant Carmen Ghira, is a scene stealer in his own right. The two make the musical number “Keep it Gay” a crowd favourite (and, for us, it’s reason alone to go back and see this show again). Photo Credit: Andrée Lanthier.

What’s currently on shameless and delightful display at the Segal Centre is an unapologetic celebration of cynicism, corruption, greed, exploitation, and the perversity of the entertainment industry – and, quite frankly, of the human condition. An equal opportunity offender, The Producers pokes tasteful fun at Jews, homosexuals, concupiscent little old ladies, and everyone and everything in between. Ultimately, though, it’s an unfeigned tale of friendship and a love letter to Broadway, and this particular reproduction is an affectionate ode to the Montreal Yiddish theatre community. The Segal Centre’s resident company, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, and the Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society have yet another hit in their hands; and, for us, The Producers ranks alongside the Centaur Theatre’s Last Night at the Gayety as one of the MUST-SEE spectacles of this theatre season that will leave you laughing and humming.

The Producers – A New Mel Brooks Musical in Yiddish plays at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts (5170 chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montreal) from June 19 to July 10, 2016. Tickets are $32 to $64 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (514) 739-7944.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon

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