What springs to mind when you hear or read the word concierge? If you’ve seen the Mel Brooks movie The Producers even once, you’ll likely be hearing the Bronx squawk of the harridan who presides over a dingy Greenwich Village brownstone where “da Kraut” can be found “up on da roof with his boids.” It’s just one of many iconic moments in a comedy that is considered classic for good reason, and has worn well the test of time. In fact, the premise of The Producers – a plot to swindle a large sum of money from investors by producing a Broadway show so offensive that it’s bound to be a flop – has become a persistent cultural meme, supplying enough matter for an entire season of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The genius of The Producers is the way in which it takes political incorrectness to such extreme depths that it perversely rebounds to achieve an interstellar orbit of utter absurdity. Broad ethnic, gender and sexual orientation stereotypes abound, but the scene that best exemplifies Brooks’s over-the-top sense of humor is of course the big Busby Berkeleyesque musical number, “Springtime for Hitler,” as grotesquely tasteless today as it was when the movie came out in 1968.
Since it started as a screenplay about unscrupulous Broadway showmen, it was only a matter of time before someone thought of adapting The Producers for the stage. And so it came to pass: About 20 more songs were added, and the original movie’s weakest link, Dick Shawn’s rather annoying flamer/flower-child character LSD, was excised. Any worries that no one else could possibly take the places of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in the lead roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom were dispelled when the 2001 Broadway production of the musical version of The Producers, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, became a huge hit, won 12 Tony Awards, 11 Drama Desk Awards and went on to a six-year run. A 2004 production in London’s West End garnered three Olivier Awards and ran for over two years.
Given the material – Brooks himself did the adaptation, with Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray), and wrote the new song lyrics – how could The Producers not be bust-a-gut funny?
The cast of the new production, which will run from April 18 to 28 in the McKenna Theatre, includes Ian Brodsky as Leo Bloom, Brittany Martel as Ulla, Michael O’Connor as Max Bialystock – and the beloved Joe Paparone, who taught in that department for 43 years, will step in for a cameo role. Theatre Arts department chair Jack Wade will direct, Stephen Kitsakos will provide the musical direction and Joe Langworth the choreography.
The Producers will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays this weekend and next. Ticket prices are $20 general admission; $18 for seniors, SUNY faculty and staff and non-SUNY-New Paltz students; and $10 for SUNY-New Paltz students. They can be purchased at the box office located in Parker Theatre, or by calling (845) 257-3880 or www.newpaltz.edu/theatre.
The Producers, Thursdays-Saturdays, April 18, 19, 20, 25, 26 & 27, 8 p.m., Sundays, April 21 & 28, 2 p.m., $20/$18/$10, McKenna Theatre, SUNY-New Paltz; (845) 257-3880, www.newpaltz.edu/theatre.