Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2009

I am always going to the theatre, and so when I ask a member of my family if they want to go with me, they only want two pieces of information: What and Where.

Producers, Cohoes

There was no further discussion, my younger son got in the car and came with me.

That should be sufficient information for you too. C-R Productions, who specialize in top-notch productions of American musicals, is staging Mel Brooks’ The Producers, the musical that has received more awards than any other in the history of musicals. Even Brooks’ Two Thousand Year Old Man couldn’t come up with a better theatrical combination than that. I only need to add four more words and I am sure you will be picking up the phone or rushing to your computer to book your tickets.

Tralen Doler Director/Choreographer

Doler’s witty and athletic choreography, his crisp direction, and a splendid cast combined with Brooks’ inspired silliness – which shows no signs of abating as the gentleman enters his tenth decade – create a hilarious production that the whole family can enjoy.

Unless you are one of those party poopers who doesn’t find Mel Brooks funny. You know who you are and you can just stay home and watch C-SPAN and reruns of The Brady Bunch.

The Producers was not born a Broadway musical, although younger people like my son find that almost impossible to believe. At intermission he turned to me and said, “You know, all I can see when I watch this show are Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.” And I replied, “Really? All I can see are Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.” “Who’s Gene Wilder?” he asked.

Don’t you want to smack young people sometimes?

I hasten to assure you that I have not raised a cultural imbecile, my son DOES know who Gene Wilder is, but he had no idea he had appeared in The Producers or that the 1968 non-musical film existed. It was Brooks’ first feature film and it won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, even though he had had to release it independently because all of the major studios considered tap-dancing Nazis too offensive to unleash upon the world.

In 1968 the New York Times called it “shoddy and gross and cruel.” In 1996, The Producers was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. How times have changed, and how Mel Brooks helped change them.

There is still something to offend everybody in Brooks’ 2001 stage musical adaptation, which won a record-breaking twelve Tony Awards. If you are male, female, gay, straight, Jewish, Gentile, an accountant, a producer, an Irish policeman, an actor, a singer, a dancer, a director, a choreographer, a playwright, a pigeon fancier, or Swedish, be prepared to be insulted. And if you happen to be a Nazi – watch out.

While I laugh at the jokes, I get what Brooks is saying. I was once offered the chance to hold an actual Nazi armband, and I couldn’t. It had been purchased (someone had profited from it – ugh!) as a costume piece for a play, and I insisted that a new armband be made and the original disposed of. And I am, as Brooks would say, a shiksa. Doler and his cast get it too. When Franz Liebkind makes Bialystock and Bloom put on the armbands I could feel their revulsion. It is a horrible scene, and yet their discomfort and Liebkind’s oblivion to it is howlingly funny.

Here David Beditz, the man who gave C-R Productions’ Artistic Director Jim Charles his first acting job, is cast as washed up Broadway producer Max Bailystock and Matthew Wade as obsessive-compulsive-depressive accountant Leo Bloom, a role he played in the National Tour of The Producers 2007-2008. They are both very good, although Beditz is more reminiscent of Mostel than Lane, which may disturb younger audience members like my son. Beditz’ bad comb-over (or is it a comb-forward?) is a lovely homage to Mostel.

Wade is an excellent physical comedian, physically reminiscent of a young Jerry Lewis in his ability to go from composed to spastically contorted in a heartbeat.

Jennifer Elise Davis, who has lovely lean legs up to her armpits, sings and dances and looks divine as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, but is there a dialect coach in the house? That is NOT a Swedish accent. That is somewhere between Ellie Mae Clampett and Mister Tudball. And because it is unidentifiable, it is also often inscrutable.

No one seems to be having more fun in this show than Jerry Christakos as the ridiculously gay and completely incompetent director Roger De Bris. Whether he is charging around looking butch in a sequined gown and heels, or skipping about as a hopelessly effeminate Führer, he is hilarious.

There was a time when I had had a snootful of Christakos as boring leading man material, but I am loving him in comic roles here and earlier this season in “Dames at Sea.” And he can SING! The only unfortunate thing about Christakos soaring, legit voice is that he puts Beditz, Wade, and especially Andrew Hartley as Franz Liebkind, to shame. They can hit all the notes, but are obviously used to being miked and cannot always project over the orchestra. There is never a time when you can’t hear Christakos loud and clear – Davis too, but there’s that accent mucking things up.

As Carmen Ghia, a role Roger Bart turned into a Tony-nominated tour de force, Matthew Naclerio can’t compete with Christakos, but he maintains a suitably whacky physical presence, making memorably upstaging exits extended by a backward reaching arm and finally wriggling fingers.

I will not take up space listing the entire Ensemble here, but I encourage you to read all their names and bios in the program and keeping a close eye on each of them as Doler allows them to wheel out their specialties – a classically trained tenor voice or a proclivity for turning rapidly repeated front walk-overs – these are all talented performers, and the show is as much about them as it is about the leads.

The Cohoes stage is small, and this show is touring after it leaves the Spindle City, so Jen Price-Fick was charged with building sets that are simultaneously flashy, flexible, and packable. And she did it! They are not quite up to Broadway or Broadway tour standards, but C-R Productions doesn’t operate on a Broadway or Broadway-tour budget. Doler has choreographed zippy set changes so that the action never stops.

Long-time Mac-Haydn costume designer Jimm Halliday, a man with a flair for the flamboyant makes a spectacular Cohoes debut. I would pay big money for that Chrysler building gown. And I am sure men from the orchestra to the balcony were giving Davis standing ovations in those form-fitting dresses and white lacy undies. The ensemble members change costumes and wigs at the speed of light, making it impossible to enumerate them until the curtain call.

As I said, this show is going on the road – first to the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA, June 4-6, and then to the Paramount in Rutland, VT, June 10 & 11. If you live in those areas and have been reading my reviews of C-R Productions’ triumphs over the years but felt that Cohoes was too long a drive, here’s your big chance! Call the Colonial or the Paramount and book your tickets NOW!

The C-R Productions presentation of The Producers runs from April 3-19 at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street, Cohoes, NY. Performances are scheduled for Thursday-Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3 p.m. An Sign Language Interpreted Performance will be available on Saturday May 23 at 2 p.m.. The show runs three hours with one intermission and is suitable for ages 8 and up. Tickets range from $23 to $32. Call the box office at 518-237-5858 for tickets and information.

After its run in Cohoes, C-R Productions is taking The Producers to The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA, for performances June 4 at 7:30 p.m., June 5 at 8 p.m., and June 6 at 3 & 8 p.m. And then to the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, VT, for performances June 10 & 11 at 7:30 p.m. Click through to the Web sites for those venues for information on ordering tickets.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009

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