The first movie version of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” came out nearly 50 years ago — in 1967 — and it has, since then, been turned into a Broadway musical (2001) and then a movie based on that musical (2005). In the production that is currently at the Paper Mill Playhouse, though, one big part of it still packs a jolt: its play-within-a-play, “Springtime for Hitler,” an astonishingly cheesy tribute to the Führer himself, with swelling, saccharine music and elaborately costumed chorus girls straight out of an old Hollywood musical. It may be Brooks’ most hilariously over-the-top moment (well, either that or the fart scene in “Blazing Saddles”).
Lovable-loser theater producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom (played here by Michael Kostroff and David Josefsberg) know how awful it is, and they’re thrilled about it: They’ve cooked up a money-making scheme that involves coming up with a guaranteed flop.
Kostroff and Josefsberg, heading a cast of 22, won’t make anyone forget Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (who starred in the original movie) or Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (who starred in the Broadway production and the movie version of that musical). But they are solid enough, with Kostroff, in particular, performing with great verve, and seeming to relish every punchline.
Director Don Stephenson and choreographer Bill Burns are not attempting to reinvent the musical. In the playbill, in fact, their contributions are listed as “Original Direction Re-created by Don Stephenson” and “Original Choreography Re-created by Bill Burns” — far below “Original Direction & Choreography by Susan Stroman.” As far as I could tell, just one new joke has been added for this production.
You might think twice about going if you are easily offended. The funding for the Broadway flop Max and Leo are trying to produce comes from a multitude of sex-crazed old ladies whom the wincing Max plays reluctant gigolo to. His song-and-dance number with them, “Along Came Bialy,” is nearly as bizarre (in a good way) as the “Springtime for Hitler” segment.
The characters of “Springtime for Hitler” director Roger De Bris (Kevin Pariseau) and his fussy assistant Carmen Ghia (Mark Price) are stereotypically gay, in a purposely ridiculous way. Max and Leo’s secretary Ulla (Ashley Spencer), an aspiring actress, is there primarily for them to leer at, and to speak in a comically exaggerated Swedish accent.
So — not surprisingly, perhaps, for a comedy that began life nearly 50 years ago — “The Producers” seems a bit dated. But it’s still riotously funny, and the songs Brooks wrote for it (he also co-wrote the book, collaborating with Thomas Meehan) are surprisingly catchy. Stephenson and Burns may not have come up with anything new, but they keep everything running smoothly and efficiently.
And the “Springtime for Hitler” production numbers still have to be seen to be believed.
“The Producers” will be at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Oct. 23; visit papermill.org.