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  • Michael Kostroff, left, as Max Bialystock, and Adam Wylie as Leo Bloom in "The Producers" (PHOTO BY JEFF BELLANTE)  

    LI premiere of 'The Producers'

    Published: August 29, 2008

    We've been in on the central joke that sustains "The Producers" ever since the 1968 Mel Brooks film -- for my money the funniest movie ever. And it still cracks me up 40 years later in its Long Island premiere.

    The Tony-winningest show in history hilariously recreates the scheme in which shameless Broadway producer Max Bialystock and mousy accountant Leo Bloom conspire to make a fortune off a flop. Max raises millions by canoodling with rich old ladies who write checks to the working title of his show -- "Cash." By selling 1,000 percent of the rights, all Bialystock and Bloom need to make a killing is a terrible script, a lousy director and a show that closes in one night. Their quest leads them to Franz, a pigeon-loving Nazi who's written an ode to the Fuhrer, "Springtime for Hitler," and to the Village People apartment of a cross-dressing director Roger DeBris, who turns this Third Reich lullaby into a gay romp.

    As Max, Michael Kostroff, the smarmy lawyer to drug kingpins on HBO's "The Wire," shines his comic badge of amorality without the arching eyebrows of Nathan Lane or the stringy combover of Zero Mostel. In Kostroff, Max's avaricious lust is as naked as his bald pate. His opposite, boyish Adam Wylie as Leo, has you believing he really needs that "little blue blankey" he strokes under stress (an obsession I never bought with Matthew Broderick on Broadway). David Edwards as Roger milks the role for all the political incorrectness that makes "The Producers" so refreshing, while Christine Cherry as receptionist/showgirl Ulla invests the blonde-bombshell cliche with winking, winsome guile. Steven Ted Beckler as Franz almost upstages his animatronic pigeons' swastika-winged salute.

    Against Robin Wagner's original Broadway set design in this Gateway Playhouse production in Patchogue, director Larry Raben hits the riotous mark, especially in "Along Came Bialy," with its little-old-ladies-on-walkers tap dance, choreographed by Matthew Vargo...

    WHAT "The Producers," by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

    WHEN | WHERE Through Sept. 13, a Gateway Playhouse production at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St.

    INFO $40-$46; 631-286-1133,

    Gateway Playhouse presents "The Producers"

    Sarah Battaglia
    Published: September 5, 2008

    Poor Max Bialystock. This former "King of Broadway" producer just had another flop with "Funny Boy" and oh, how he longs for the days again when he was gay (but straight). Did people forget that he was the first producer ever to do Summer Stock in the winter? Standing in a garbage can outside the theater, Max shouts, "Bialystock will be on top again!"

    And indeed he will be. "The Producers," the new Gateway Playhouse production at the Patchogue Theatre, recreates the insane comedy of Mel Brooks' Academy Award-winning 1968 film with the classic characters that are now part of comedic history: Max Bialystock , the sleazy con-man who shtups elderly women in order to finance his next play; Leo Bloom, the nebbish accountant-cum-co-conspirator who reluctantly teams up with Max to cheat theater investors by deliberately producing a flop; Ulla, the well-endowed Swedish "secretary slash receptionist" of limited English; Franz Liebkind, whose dreadful screenplay, "Springtime for Hitler" is just what the producers need for a Broadway flop, and Roger "Elizabeth" DeBris, an untalented, homosexual in drag who "couldn't direct you to the bathroom."

    Michael Kostroff, as Max, is perfectly-cast in a role of non-stop hilarity. With his office walls adorned with movie posters of "Breaking Wind" and "When Cousins Marry," he plays cat-and-mouse games with the little old ladies (Jessica Sheridan, Anne Bloemendal, Denise Molnar) who are grateful for his services, thanking him with checks made out to "Cash," ("a funny name for a play!" says one). Mr. Kostroff's credits include a gang lawyer on HBO's "The Wire" and appearances on "The Closer, "ER," "West Wing" and many other television and theater productions. He is a comic professional and one I personally preferred over Nathan Lane in the same role on Broadway.

    As Ulla, Christine Cherry is a sexy albeit sweet love interest to Leo (Adam Wylie), who happily partners with her for 11 AM love sessions. Singing "That Face," their talents shine, with funny physical antics behind the couch and powerful vocals by Ms. Cherry. As Franz Liebkind, Steven Ted Beckler draws many laughs in his German helmet and lederhosen. When Max and Leo convince him that they want to show the world the "true Hitler, the Hitler with a song in his heart," Franz quickly obliges.

    David Edwards is a riot as Roger, who, as Hitler, sings "Heil Myself!" and "I'm a German Ethel Merman!" Carmen Ghia (Garth Kravits) is equally entertaining in his caricature of a gay, flamboyant "common-law assistant" to Roger.

    The musical numbers dazzled, including the little old ladies in a chorus line of walkers; "Keep It Gay," featuring various Village People-attired dancers in a conga line; "I Wanna Be A Producer," where we see the tired employees of Whitehall and Marks in a robotic adding machine number before Leo proclaims, "Stop the world, I wanna get on!" and the very funny "It's Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Op'ning Night," which has Roger, Carmen and others "arabesque, pirouette and goosestep" across the stage. For the finale, "Springtime for Hitler," creative costumes paraded down the elaborate set, including dancers dressed as a pretzel, sauerbraten, a beer stein and tap-dancing Nazis.

    "The Producers" hits on everyone, including gays, blondes and the elderly. Mel Brooks once said, "There isn't a subject that's taboo." Director Larry Raben says, "I love that it offends everyone. It came out in a time when people got so politically correct that you found yourself choosing adjectives mid sentence, afraid that you'd step on someone's toes. Mel just threw all of that out the window and went after everyone, and it just allowed you to laugh again."

    The play's choreographer, Matthew Vargo, agrees. "What's brilliant about it is that African Americans offend the African Americans, little old ladies offend the old people, the gay people offend the gay people, but it's never the straight white man offending everyone. What Mel did was brilliant. These people are the ones making fun of themselves, which we all have to do."

    Max and Leo finally come out on top in the end, and the audience gets a peek at the names of Bialystock and Bloom productions that will follow: "A Streetcar Named Murray," "Katz" and "South Passaic."

    If they're as good as "The Producers," I'll be there.

    "The Producers" runs through September 13 at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue. For info, call 286-1133 or visit

    The Producers at Gateway

    By Roy Bradbrook.
    Published: September 5, 2008

    All I could think of in between the almost constant laughter during the opening night of Gateway's Long Island professional premiere of The Producers was: How did Mel Brooks do this? How could you possibly believe that a film or musical could succeed, when its premise is that an unscrupulous theater producer could make a fortune by staging a musical with no chance of success and after it quickly closed enjoy the money that well meaning investors had put into the show? Oh, and while they're at it, ensure that throughout the show you make very non-PC and very funny jokes about almost every nationality, profession and sexual persuasion you can think of, including Americans, Germans, Brits, Irish, blacks, gays, Swedes, Jews, wealthy elderly women with strong sexual appetites and then, to cap it all off, make Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party an integral part of the plot. Can you imagine going to the heads of a film studio or a theater group to pitch this?

    Well, if you're Mel Brooks you can - and you can also get approval for it. And thank goodness he did, because this is a very funny show - unless you are so PC that the humor passes you by.

    This type of farce relies on a cast that knows how to time every moment, because those silent, pregnant pauses when you instinctively know what the characters are thinking are vital. I enjoyed this Gateway production as much as, if not more than, when I saw it on Broadway. Michael Kostroff, as the wily producer Max Bialystock and Adam Wylie as a nerdy, introverted accountant complete with his 'worry blanket,' who ends up wanting to wear a Broadway producer's hat, really make the word synergy meaningful and are reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy at their greatest. Steven Ted Beckler plays the almost demented neo-Nazi, Franz Libkind, complete with performing pigeons, with frenetic enthusiasm.

    David Edwards, as the flamboyantly gay director, Roger DeBris, has an opening entrance to savor while Garth Kravits, superbly over the top as his camp assistant Carmen Ghia, specializes in exits seemingly taken directly from Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. You just wonder how long that last fingernail will be in sight! The scene where Roger runs the show by his 'executive team' for approval is one of the funniest, culminating in a conga line with moves to remember. Christine Cherry plays Ulla, the Swedish ingénue, who wants to be a star. She captivates both Max and Leo and who could blame them, for she really is gorgeous and relieves Leo of the need for his worry blanket.

    Jessica Sheridan, nicknamed, "Hold Me Touch Me," is hilarious yet scary as Max's prime theatrical angel, as she leads the determined group of sex-starved elderly women who finance his shows. Their dance routine with walkers is another sight for the ages!

    The staging works very well and the choreography by Matthew Vargo keeps the show moving at a very fast pace.

    In the mood of irreverence engendered by Mel Brook's show, the teaming of Max and Leo, with all of the accompanying glitter and glitz and their intricate maneuverings, were eerily reminiscent of the current presidential political conventions and the comparisons were alarming - you can use your own political leanings to decide which party it brought to mind when Leo and Max triumphantly declare, "We Can Do It!"

    But Gateway certainly has done it with another raging success that deserves full houses who should go home giving thanks for the quirky genius of Mel Brooks every night.

    Another Gateway smash hit

    Published: September 4, 2008

    Mel Brooks is notorious for his comedic parodies that draw numerous audiences to theaters. The Gateway Playhouse's production of The Producers, based on Brooks' 1968 film of the same name, delivers comedy, sarcasm, and boundless energy to the stage of the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts.

    Max Bialystock, played by Michael Kostroff, is a Broadway producer who has not produced a successful hit in a long time. He partners with a young accountant, Leo Bloom (played by Adam Wylie) and they make it their mission to raise more money than they need to produce a Broadway flop and pocket the difference so they can go to Rio. The play they decide to produce is a musical praising Hitler and Nazi Germany, but their Broadway "flop" is not what they expect it to be. Old ladies, drag queens, and neo-Nazis are constant presences throughout the play, and we see a hilarious, jaw-dropping performance of the Broadway flop, Springtime for Hitler. Director Larry Raben has accomplished a difficult task-directing a play that is on par with the quality of a Broadway show.

    Numbers like "Keep It Gay" and "When You've Got It, Flaunt It" kept the audience laughing and applauding. Kostroff, who has made appearances on HBO's The Wire, plays Bialystock's scheming character to a T. On the other hand, Wylie, a Gateway veteran, delivers a whimsical performance of the nervous accountant who aspires to become a Broadway producer. All of the actors have fantastic chemistry onstage, which is easily noticeable by the audience.

    The high energy displayed during the play, especially during the dance numbers, is infectious. One of the many high points of The Producers was Christine Cherry's performance of Ulla, the Swedish woman who wins Bloom's heart. Cherry's exaggerated Swedish accent was definitely a crowd-pleaser. Another high point was a cameo from the characters of The Village People after "Keep It Gay," and yes, the Cherokee Indian made a stellar appearance, too. All of the puns and jokes were on point, and the intermission only held off the suspense of finding out what was next.

    The set design was well planned and executed. As for costume design, the audience noted that the showgirl's costumes were glitzy, but were more ridiculous during the Springtime for Hitler number. For example, one showgirl wears a gigantic beer stein on top of her head, while another one wears a pretzel. Another costume of note was Roger De Bris' gaudy Chrysler Building gown.

    Unabashedly off-color and wildly hilarious, The Producers has a unique sense of humor that is not for those who are faint of heart. The Producers will be playing at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts through Sept. 13. For tickets, call 286-1133 or visit