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Zemfira Stage The Producers

By • Sep 4th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Producers
Zemfira Stage
James Lee Community Center Theater, Falls Church, VA
Through September 16th
2:50 with one intermission
$15/$10 Students, Seniors, Military
Reviewed August 31st, 2012

Mel Brooks’ The Producers has outrageous fun with Jews, gays, neo-Nazis, Irish cops, accountants, Swedish sex bombshells and, above all, show business clichés. Zemfira Stage’s production pulls out all the show’s stops, creating a highly enjoyable evening of theater.

The production is full of well-defined, vivid, hilarious performances. Brian Johnson and Jonathan Faircloth, as Roger DeBris, the director/accidental star of musical-within-the-musical Springtime for Hitler, and Carmen Ghia, his partner and assistant, spoof every gay stereotype in the book while maintaining a consistently believable and sweet relationship. Johnson also hoofs nicely through a song-and-dance number (“Heil Myself”) as Der Fuhrer. As neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, Cameron Conlan is gracefully fanatical, while Coleen Connor (Ulla) handles the lyrical and belt portions of her music with aplomb while projecting the self-aware, over-the-top comic sexiness her role demands.

As the producers, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom respectively, Jim Mitchell and Joe Phillipoom carry much of the show. Both give sound performances, and they have good chemistry together in duets like “We Can Do It” and “Where Did We Go Right?” As the initially frightened mouse of an accountant, Philipoom cowers well, and he displays a pleasing tenor voice in “That Face,” “I Wanna Be a Producer,” and other numbers. His hangdog posture persists a bit too long into the second act, however. As Bialystock, a role created by Zero Mostel (in the original movie) and Nathan Lane (in the stage and film versions of the musical), Mitchell is appropriately opportunistic and cunning, never one to let even a stray consideration of honesty cramp his style. Mitchell has a strong baritone voice that is more than adequate in the role. His second-act soliloquy “Betrayed,” in which he recapitulates much of the plot, lacks some of the frenetic physical humor that helps to sell the number.

The Producers is a strong ensemble show, and the large group assembled by Zemfira Stage is excellent, its members portraying multiple roles as cops, gay theater types, showgirls, old ladies, etc. They sing clearly and move well and, of course, lead the show’s signature number, “Springtime for Hitler.” Michelle Ballard deserves mention for her fine soprano solo at the top of that number.

The show is well choreographed by Stacy Crickmer, her contributions including such varied items as a walker chorus line for a group of purportedly old ladies, a nice pair dance for Leo and Ulla, and the big show biz movement of “Springtime for Hitler.” After some jitters in the overture, Charlie Manship’s orchestra settled in to accompany the singers effectively. Orchestra/singer balance was generally well maintained, and the miking of lead actors was less obnoxious than in many productions.

There is virtually no set for the show, a wise choice by director Zina Bleck given the large cast and limited stage space. A small number of furniture pieces in front of a cloth backdrop are sufficient. The lighting design is likewise simple, consisting mostly of various colors to illuminate the backdrop and a somewhat overused follow spot.

The varied and colorful costume design, by Sabrina Chandler and Claudia Tameris, is the outstanding technical feature of the production. The “Chrysler Building” dress for DeBris, with a touch of art deco in its design, was particularly well done. The ensemble has multiple changes, and the costumes work for all the varied roles ensemble members play. Some way of making young ensemble women appear old for “Along Came Bialy” other than gray fright wigs would have been helpful.

An historical footnote: “Keep It Gay,” an ensemble number in the first act of The Producers, is not the first show tune by that name. A song with the same title appears in the 1953 Rogers and Hammerstein show Me and Juliet, also a play-within-a-play about the production of a Broadway musical. In the 1953 song, a Don Juan character explains his goal of avoiding emotional entanglements with his women. The two songs provide a nice illustration of the changes in the meaning of a word over time. Like many Bialystock productions, by the way, Me and Juliet was not a success.

Photo Gallery

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Photos by Meganne McCawley Johnson

The Cast

  • Max Bialystock: Jim Mitchell
  • Leo Bloom: Joe Philipoom
  • Mr. Marks: Geoffrey Baskir
  • Franz Liebkind: Cameron Conlan
  • Gunter: Brady W. Russell
  • Roger DeBris: Brian Johnson
  • Carmen Ghia: Jonathan Faircloth
  • Bryan (Set Designer): Roger Yawson
  • Scott (Choreographer): Justin Janke
  • Kevin (Costume Designer): Chris Rios
  • Shirley Markowitz: Denise Mattingly
  • Ulla Inga Hansen Bensen Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson: Colleen Connor
  • Hold Me Touch Me: Stacy Crickmer
  • Lick Me Bite Me: Amy Treat
  • Kiss Me Feel Me: Aimee Snow
  • Judge: Mark Shaffstall
  • Ensemble: Michelle Ballard, Geoffrey Baskir, Katy Chmura, Stacy Crickmer, Justin Janke, Ashley Kinnery, Lisa Koenig, Miguel Lopez, Denise Mattingly, Grace McCarthy, Julie Philipoom, Rodrigo Pool, Samantha Reau, Chris Rios, Mike Rudden, Brady W. Russell, Mark Shaffstall, Amy Treat, Aimee Snow, Roger Yawson

The Production Team

  • Director/Producer: Zina Bleck
  • Music Director: Charlie Manship
  • Choral Director: Rachel Harrington
  • Assistant Choral Directors: Jonathan Blank, Michelle Ballard
  • Choreographer: Stacy Crickmer
  • Rehearsal Accompanist: Jonathan Blank, Charlie Manship
  • Assistant Choreographer/Dance Captain: Emma Philpoom
  • Stage Manager: Rich Prien
  • Lighting Director: Stacy King
  • Costume Designers: Sabrina Chandler, Claudia Tameris
  • Hair & Make-up Design: Cameron Conlan
  • Ulla’s Hair: Kerry Ann Durbin

Disclaimer: Zemfira Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

One Response »

  1. I loved the original movie The Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, so I went to the Zemfira Stage production of The Producers mostly to support a friend with several minor roles in the production, and not because I expected a great show. So I felt pleasantly surprised to find the show great after all.

    Jim Mitchell did an outstanding job as the overstated Max Bialystock. I know it’s a tiny thing, but when he broke into his fake Irish brogue toward the end to try to fool the (stereotypical Irish big-city) cop, I laughed for several minutes. Indeed I laughed at his performances and those of his co-stars so much that at time I had to cover my mouth to avoid disturbing my fellow theatergoers.

    Joe Philipoom played a good Leo Bloom, transforming from nebbish to hero to nebbish to hero again with aplomb, and, as Bialystock noticed toward the end, had a fantastic singing voice.

    Colleen Connor played a terrific Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden-Swamson. She was beautiful and did a tremendous job of actual tap-dancing, taking me back to the black and white movies of my parents’ youth. I don’t know if her parents forced her to tap as a child, but those tap lessons really paid off.

    Cameron Lee Conlan played a delightfully over-the-top Nazi (Franz Liebkind); as the friend who went with me commented, Cameron was fearless. Brian Johnson also took his character, the gay director Roger DeBris, entertainingly over the top.

    My friend, Brady Russell, made his acting debut in The Producers, playing the Nazi’s disillusioned sidekick (Gunter), the play-with-in-a-play’s Winston Churchill, the police sergeant, and a member of the Ensemble. Since he’s so big and tall that they mostly put in way in the back, yet he managed to act his heart out so that you could see him from the front.

    I would be remiss in mentioning the plethora of attractive women in the Ensemble. I think it had some men too, but if you’re interested you’ll have to go see the play and judge for yourself whether any of them was attractive. 😀

    I haven’t laughed so much since someone suggested I would make a great father. If you live within driving distance of northern Virginia, I highly recommend that you go see the Zemfira Stage production of The Producers. To misquote the play, don’t be stupid; be a smarty—go and see Zemfira’s party! 😀