The last time I encountered “The Producers,” I was 16, sewing sequins onto swastikas in my high school costume shop. When I found out the New Paltz Theater Department had chosen the Mel Brooks’ dark comedy as their annual musical, the memory of working on a show with the most bizarre costumes I had ever seen was brought to the forefront of my mind.
As someone who thoroughly enjoys offensive, satirical humor, the content of “The Producers” was right up my alley. Never having seen the movie (gasp), though, there was no holy grail I held my standards up to, which I guess is a good thing. I entered the theater not quite knowing what to expect, which automatically made my experience watching the show all the more enjoyable.
“Enjoyable” is an understatement, really. My experience watching “The Producers” sharpened my tongue, heightened my love for the theater (if possible) and left my sides aching for days. Having been that audience member whose obnoxious snort-laughs resonated in the theater long after a line was delivered, I would say “The Producers” was one of the best shows I’ve seen in New Paltz to date.
The performance would have been meaningless without the witty, comedic banter between the show’s namesakes: Bialystock and Bloom, played by third-year theater performance major, Mike O’Connor and fourth-year musical theater major, Ian Brodsky, respectively. From Brodsky’s cracking voice and security blanket to O’Connor’s dirty-old-man one-liners and forceful nature, the pair had an undeniable energy that carried the entire show.
Second-year theater performance major, Brittany Martel, embodied her character of Ulla through her seductive body language. Although her accent seemed inconsistent throughout the show, I appreciated the genuine and endearing nature of her ongoing romance with Brodsky.
As if I wasn’t already in stitches after the scene featuring “Hold Me-Touch Me,” the absolute thief of the show, Franz Liebkind, played by third-year theater performance major Rob Gagnon, came along.
The aforementioned snort laughter I emitted was during the first scene featuring this beyond ridiculous character, the playwright of the show within the show, “Springtime for Hitler.” Gagnon was completely committed to every move he made. The depth in which he immersed himself in his character was admirable, as I imagine it would be worlds more difficult to treat a character as ridiculous as Franz with as much professionalism as a more serious character. However, Gagnon was able to both separate and connect himself from and with the humor and absurdity of this neo-Nazi in order to do justice to everything his character was created to stand for.
I have to mention how incredibly amazed I was with the work of third-year theater performance major, Julia Register, throughout this entire show. An undeniably bright and shining star of this department, Register has an ability to commit to any and every role she is given, which in this production encompassed “Hold Me-Touch Me,” a blind ensemble member and even a prison guard.
She was a complete breath of fresh air from the bloomers and dusters she donned to her violin bow that doubled as a walking stick I am always confident she will able to fully embody all characters she’s cast as, and she more than held her own in “The Producers.”
From the “Springtime for Hitler” showgirls wearing a variety of ridiculous objects on their heads to the extravagant Roger DeBris drag outfit, this show easily has the most bizarre costumes I’ve ever seen and the department was able to emulate that vision exceptionally well. Likewise, the extremely necessary technical decisions, from the incorporation of the turntable, allowing scene changes to run more efficiently, to the simple but effective lighting cues indicating the passing of time, were necessary, impressive and seemingly effortless in this production.
I think it’s pretty evident by the amount of glitter and pride seeping out of this review that I absolutely adored this production, but if not, I’ll reiterate — I adored it.
Taking on a challenge and tackling a show so far up the insane meter was incredibly ambitious, but it paid off in the long run. If I had any expectations, the Theater Department’s production of “The Producers” would have far exceeded them, and then some.