Yiddish Theatre : The Producers

The Producers. Sam Stein and Mikey Samra. Photo by Andree Lanthier. The Producers. Sam Stein and Mikey Samra. Photo by Andree Lanthier.

One might think that an iconic Mel Brooks musical The Producers (dir. Anisa Cameron) whose best known lyric is “Springtime for Hitler”, might not go over very well in Yiddish. But in fact, it was twice as funny with Yiddish lyrics and book (Miriam Hoffman, Raisel Candib, Aron Gonshor), precisely because it has all the broad satire and schmaltz of Jewish New York vaudeville wrapped in a fine New York plot. The music was beautifully directed by Nick Burgess, and Jeremy Gordaneer’s set was just perfect. Luc Prairie wielded his well-known magic with the lights, and apart from the occasional ripped seam, Louise Burret provided fabulous costumes. Cameron was flawless in her directing.

Then there was the cast of thousands. It is wonderful that two theatre groups (Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre and the Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society) united, because not only are they terrific on stage but they provided an enormous and talented array of performers who made the evening even more special. First and funniest was Elan Kunin who played the Nazi sympathizing playwright with great energy and fantastic comic timing. Jonathan Patterson was a delicious Roger De Bris, just enough over the top to get the joke across with restraint enough to feel good about Gay men running all the musicals (in New York and only in this show.) Alisha Ruiss played a remarkable Ulla, making her sexy part daringly intelligent, with a wink and a nod to Mr. Brooks. Mikey Samra was a wonderful Leo Bloom, the ultimate nebbish. Brandon Schwartz delivered a lovely tenor version of Springtime for Hitler, which left everyone in stitches.

Sam Stein was so outstanding as Max Bialystock, that I almost forgot that Zero Mostel, one of my favourite actors, played in the original version. Stein gave Max a whole new range of lecherous and greedy moments, which only made the ending more delightful and touching.

At this point I must confess that I am old enough to have met both Mel Brooks, not my favourite kind of lecher and casting couch personality, but he can be forgiven because of his talent. In Chicago he kept yelling, “But I am a famous film director”. Zero sat beside me at a deli in the lower East side, and when I did not pay him enough attention, he started by buttering his bagel and ended up by buttering the rest of his sleeve up to his shoulder. Then I paid attention, and was rewarded with great stories of the Yiddish theatre at the turn of the last century.

If you can get tickets do not miss this delightful theatrical event! The Producers is at the Segal Centre until July 10th. $45 and up. Tickets HERE.

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