This review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
I thoroughly enjoyed The Producers performed by Second Stage Productions at the Back Stage Theatre. It was the theatrical equivalent of a home run with all the bases loaded: great book, great music, and great performances by a cast that sang and acted well.
The six main characters and the lesser characters were all perfect in their roles thanks to their selection and direction by Brian Stalter. Unfortunately, the Playbill was too bare bones and didn't provide any bio or background on the truly wonderful actors. In this Long Island Community Theater that is in the process of extensive renovation, the least underpaid actors can receive is recognition. For example, Roger DeBris was expertly played by Michael Harrison Carlin, an Equity professional, as an outrageous, incompetent gay cross-dressing director. On the other hand, Leo Bloom was played by Vin Maiello, a gifted amateur. Without makeup, the silver-haired, middle-aged Maiello successfully portrayed a much younger Leo Bloom who found a savior and mentor in Max Bialystock. Barry Kaplan was the wily, conniving Max Bialystock desperate for success of any kind when he was inspired by Bloom to commit outright fraud. Franz Liebkind is played as the perfect fool by Michael Janover, who has written "Springtime For Hitler," an outrageous musical paying tribute to his idol Adolf Hitler. Carmen Ghia, the partner of Roger DeBris, acted by Michael Harrington as a character so light in the loafers he almost floated off the stage (remarkably beating out Keith Jones in that category). Zoe Carpentieri exuded sex appeal as Swedish bombshell Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson.
The second tier actors were equally well-cast and performed their roles with gusto, enthusiasm, and authenticity. Staci Ertel and Samantha Szillus were perfect as the bookend Usherettes. Judy Mahoney was quite believable as the "Hold Me - Touch Me" aged granny investor that Max Bialystock must sacrifice himself to in order to get financing for his plays. Chris Williamson and Keith Jones performed several roles quite capably and even director Brian Stalter joined in on the fun portraying the Judge and Leo Bloom's boss. The show girls who performed a multitude of roles and costume changes were enthralling and enthusiastically played by Nadina Espinosa, Camilla Montoya, Shannan Lydon, Meghan Jacobsen, Emily Missbach, and Jenna Kavaler. As for the remainder of the cast, there wasn't a clinker in the batch.
The set was well-designed by Vin Maiello, who also played Leo Bloom. The sound by Laura Stalter was initially too loud at the beginning but was adjusted to a more reasonable level. In addition, someone's microphone kept scratching creating a significant distraction at numerous times throughout the evening. Sebastien Diaquoi's Lighting Design highlighted the actors well. Peter Berenberg has his job as House Manager cut out for him. Second Stage Productions has just taken over its space at the Back Stage Theatre. The theatre was well-air-conditioned but there was only one bathroom for the entire cast and audience. There appeared to be new seats but none large enough for a big-boned person such as myself. The actors could also use secure storage lockers for their costumes and it would have been nice if refreshments were available during intermission. Since the front door of the Back Stage Theatre faces west, the sun came glaring into the theatre from under the door which was quite distracting until the sun set.
Despite these minor setbacks and limitations, my spirit soared as I experienced the baseball equivalent of a perfect game. Do not miss this show! It is well-crafted and brilliantly performed by a great ensemble cast. In my opinion, it's a Once In A Lifetime Experience! Additional performances of The Producers are Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets cost $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, visit www.2ndStageProductions.com or call 516-996-0303.