Friday, June 7, 2019

The Producers at Lakewood

Über the top
by Michael Dresdner

Roger DeBris (Dorset) and ensemble        All photos by Tim Johnson 
Lakewood Playhouse is closing out its 80th season with the magnificent Mel Brooks musical The Producers, and what a show it is! Director Cassie Pruitt and choreographer Ashley Roy have created a rollicking, toe-tapping, colorful extravaganza that explodes onto the stage with such éclat that the modest theater’s walls can barely contain it. With an absolutely stellar cast, from the leads through every single ensemble performer, this one is a truly epic experience.  

Bialystock (Wolff) and Bloom (Johnson)

Max Bialystock (Chap Wolff, standing in last night for Brad Cerenzia) is a once mighty Broadway producer who, of late, has slid into a string of flops. But when dweeby accountant Leo Bloom (Will Johnson) suggests he could make more money by over-subscribing a play, as long as it is guaranteed to fail on opening night, the two set out to get rich.

Franz Liebkind (Sinclair)
They find the worst script, a sympathetic musical about Adolph Hitler written by a loony, pigeon-loving, Nazi sympathizer named Franz Liebkind (Kyle Sinclair). Next, they hire the worst director available, a flagrantly swish, cross-dressing hack named Roger DeBris (Henry Talbot Dorset) whose constant shadow is his equally outré gay lover/aide Carmen Ghia (Erik Davis).

Front: Bialystock (Wolff), DeBris (Dorset), Bloom (Johnson),  Rear: Carmen Ghia (Davis) and ensemble. 
Once they have a sure-fire flop lined up, a musical called Springtime for Hitler, Bialystock starts to court his stable of rich, lustful, old women investors to cover ten times the actual production costs. Max calls them not by their names, but with an epithet describing what they demand in exchange for checks, like the short, coy Hold Me Touch Me (Betzy Miller), who crafts hilarious sexual fantasies to subject him to.

L to R: Svaden Svanson (Ewerz), Bialystock (Wolff), Bloom (Johnson)

But even before auditions start, who should show up but a classic, drop-dead-gorgeous Swedish blonde bombshell named Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaaden-Svanson (Hayley Ewerz). They hire her on the spot as both actress and office help.

It all goes wrong when the opening night critics see it not as crassly tasteless, but wonderfully camp. The play is a hit, and the fraudulent producers end up in prison.

Bloom (Johnson) with ensemble and Hold Me Touch Me (Betzy Miller -- far right) 

Small wonder the play is a hit. We get to see it in act two, staged by a large, extraordinarily talented ensemble cast. From dancing pigeons to a geriatric Zimmer frame hoedown, the whole musical-within-a-musical bursts forth in a fast-paced, non-stop explosion of colorful, high-stepping absurdity that fills every inch of the theater. For the audience, it’s a veritable three-ring-circus of fun.   

As for the cast, I hardly know where to start. The leads were all amazing, but then so was the entire ensemble. What do you say when absolutely everyone deserves a call-out for excellence? There simply are not enough superlatives to do them justice.  

And let’s not forget the crew. An ambitious set by Blake York created a stepped thrust stage protruding from a classic proscenium background, complete with curtain and hidden cubbyholes. Add a dizzying number of hilarious, colorfully eye-searing costumes by Lauren Wells, complex and adroit lighting by Aaron Mohs-Hale, and sound design by Nicolas Roycroft with sound engineer Ed Jacobs. There were acres of creative props and wigs on this one, all thanks to Jeffery Weaver. And let’s not forget the stunt coach, Cara Hall, dance captain/cast member Kira Leigh Vega, and making this monstrously complex play run smoothly, stage manager Heather Hinds and ASMs Calvin Beekmand and D J Johnson.

There’s no way I can convey this experience in mere words, so please, trust me; go see it.

The Producers
June 7 to July 7, 2019
Lakewood Playhouse


  1. I'm curious- the show is a musical, and you mentioned every person involved except the musicians, music director, and singers. Was the music so bad it couldn't be mentioned?

  2. It was canned music, so no musical director and no musicians. I did mention both the sound designer and sound engineer, the two people responsible for the music. The whole cast, leads and ensemble, sang (and danced), and I lauded all extensively and deservedly.

    1. If you'll check your program, you'll find Debbie Armstrong listed as the musical director. She did a brilliant job of training the singers to work with canned music- which is much harder than a live band, since it cannot follow the singers when tempos or keys become unpredictable- and also seamlessly blending pit singers (backstage singers) with those onstage. If you didn't realize the pit singers were there, that means she did an extra brilliant job of it. Just wanted to be sure that the music director got at least as much kudos as the ASMs.

  3. Thank you Michael for your review. It disappoints me that "Unknown" is unknown. Thank you for all the years of seeing shows and supporting theatre through your candid and well writen reviews. Enjoy your next adventure.