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BWW Reviews: The Engeman 'Produces' a Sensational PRODUCERS


The magic of Theatre (or even Art as a whole) - I believe - lies within its awe-inspiring ability to transcend expectation and disintegrate our preconceived emotional, physical, spiritual, and artistic notions. Theatre exposes us to countless worlds of boundless imagination: from the eccentric sensationalism of what happens "behind-the-scenes" (a la THE PRODUCERS) to the minimalist existentialism of a Beckettian vision (a la...well...most plays by Samuel Beckett). Regional Theatre's role in all of this proves perhaps even more diverse, especially when theatre companies like the John W. Engeman Theater has the distinct way of bringing together people of all skill (and union) levels in a way that makes even me question whether or not Broadway is necessarily where the best theatre lies.

In its opening weekend, I attended the Engeman's production of Mel Brooks' comic masterpiece THE PRODUCERS: led by a collection of Broadway vets whom were more than at home on the Northport, NY stage. This cast & crew brought bombastic vocals, pleasantly disjointed (y'know, in an organized chaos kind of way), out-of-this-world costumes (Don't worry, there's a dress made out of sausages...or dare I say...bratwurst. #SoyGerman), comedic timing that would put Abbott & Costello to shame, and sets made for a king: more specifically, the "King of Broadway."

For those unfamiliar with the show: "THE PRODUCERS tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, and a nerdy, young accountant, Leo Bloom, who concoct a scheme to raise thousands of dollars from backers and then put on a flop of a show. With all the money that will be left over, the pair will be rich! Only one thing goes wrong: the show is a gigantic hit! With a truly hysterical book co-written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (ANNIE), and music & lyrics by Brooks, THE PRODUCERS skewers Broadway traditions and takes no prisoners as it proudly proclaims itself an 'equal opportunity offender'!"

I want to express the deepest gratitude to the director, Igor Goldin, for not directing his actors into a corner with this show. Each and every person onstage had a story to tell, and not just some façade to put on: a worry I typically have when viewing a comedic musical. Even each member of the ensemble had fantastic individuality and characterization that it makes one wonder whether an ensemble needs to necessarily "blend together" - which, in fact, is quite difficult not to do when the show decks out its actors in outrageous costumes that make Betsy Johnson and Alexander McQueen look like monochromatic novices (I won't be forgetting you, anytime soon, Bratwurst Dress...). Though, it's the joint effort between the lead players and supporting players that create magic on that stage, and this cast did just that.

Stuart Zagnit (NEWSIES, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, SEUSSICAL, THE WILD PARTY) took a naturalistic approach to the brash Max Bialystock. Of course, elements of his choices were outrageous as to go along with the outrageous dialogue, but besides that, Zagnit's performance gives an understatedly grandiose performance. Meanwhile, Joel Newsome (THE PRODUCERS, 42ND STREET) came in as a perfect foil for Zagnit: anxious, inexperienced, wide-eyed, the works. Newsome was quite at home in the role of Leo Bloom, since he just happened to understudy the role on Broadway, not too long ago. Though I thoroughly appreciated Mr. Newsome's immature physical choices and pleasantly irritating moments of vocal trill, I felt that the performance lacked the adolescent-esque ambition that Bloom should be feeling in several key moments in the show, rather than moments of childlike frustration and dismissal.

The moments I felt Newsome was most appropriately wide-eyed were those in the presence of Gina Milo's (LES MISERABLES) Ulla: the Swedish goddess who arrives in the midst of a debate between the two leading men, in search of an audition (affectionately pronounced ow-diss-ee-oon). Milo arrived on that stage with the comedic presence in the same vein as Lucille Ball or even Sofia Vergara: unknowingly nuanced and subjectively (maybe objectively?) batsh*t weird. These three actors held the near-perfect comedic rhythm of this show in the palm of their hands, which they just so happened to have us eating out of, by the end of the show.

Other brilliant performances of (much deserved) note derive from the show-stealing duo of Ian Knauer (MAMMA MIA!, STATE FAIR, BY JEEVES) as Roger Debris, the infamous flamboyant "Worst Director in the World," and Christopher Sloan (ALL SHOOK UP, FRIENDS AND RELATIONS, CABARET) as Carmen Ghia, the snippy, shady, and black-clad assistant to the director (So, would that make him the "Worst Assistant in the World" or...?). Between Knauers eccentric outbursts when inspiration struck his character, and the hilariously drawn-out, piercing stares of Sloan's, there was no way to dismiss the amount this dynamic duo (corny phrase, I know) brought to the "producers'" table.

THE PRODUCERS will play the following performance schedule: Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $69 and may be purchasd by calling (631) 261-2900, going online at, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Stree, Northport, NY. Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express accepted.

THE PRODUCERS is produced by Richard T. Dolce, the Engeman Theater's Producing Artistic Director. It is directed by Igor Goldin, with Choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo, and Musical Direction by James Olmstead. The Design Team is Daniel Willis (Scenic Design), Kurt Alger (Wig & Costume Design), Driscoll Otto (Lighting Design), Laura Shubert (Sound Design), Bryan Prywes (Props Design), Wojcik/Seay Casting, LLC (Casting Director), and Trey Compton (Assistant Director).

The cast of THE PRODUCERS features: Stuart Zagnit, Joel Newsome, Gina Milo, John Plumpis, Ian Knauer, Christopher Sloan, Pim Van Amerongen, Emily Blake Anderson, Abby Bartish, Molly Jean Blodgett, Mary Callahan, Michael J. Farina, Carl DeForest Hendin, Jeffrey Johnson II, Larry A. Lozier Jr., Suzanne Mason, Laura Otremba, Caleb Schaaf, Erica Wilpon.

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Born and raised on Long Island, Brian has been involved in countless community and regional theatre productions on Long Island as well as in NYC, (read more...)