By STUART NULMAN
Since its inception five years ago, the Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society has accomplished a great deal in the world of community theatre in such a short period of time. Their productions of “Grease”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Catch Me If You Can” and “Hairspray” played to sold-out crowds at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium at Cote St. Luc City Hall (with the last two productions staging successful remounts at, respectively, the Segal Centre and the Centaur Theatre). And last year, “Hairspray” won the Montreal English Theatre Award (META) for best community theatre production.
And this year, the Society will embark upon another theatrical milestone, as it joins forces with the prestigious Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre to present the first-ever Yiddish language production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”, which concludes the Segal Centre’s 2015-2016 season, and play there from June 19 to July 10.
“This is a true milestone for us, and we are very proud of the work we have done,” said Anisa Cameron, the Artistic Director of the Society and is directing “The Producers”. “Getting involved with the Segal Centre and the Yiddish Theatre proves that we are steadily expanding and getting bigger; and that’s thanks to the support we get in the community. And the municipal government values community theatre, because they see it as essential to a city’s culture as any sports league.”
Cote St. Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society, agrees that having the Society present “The Producers” is quite the milestone for the group. “I am very excited about this. And audiences who have attended Yiddish Theatre shows in the past will get the chance to experience Anisa’s style of direction, which is more realistic in approach, and makes maximum use of the theatrical space that is offered to her. That way, the audience will get to become a big part of the show,” he said. Mayor Brownstein, who is also an experienced stage actor and has appeared in practically all of the Society’s productions, will be seen onstage in “The Producers”, this time in a cameo appearance as a judge in the courtroom scene later in the show.
For those who saw the original classic 1968 film that was written and directed by Brooks (which earned him an Oscar for best original screenplay) and starred Gene Wilder and the late Zero Mostel, or caught the mega successful Broadway musical that won an astounding 12 Tony Awards, the outrageous plot of “The Producers” is quite familiar: it focuses around bombastic, has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystock and meek accountant Leo Bloom. Together, they hatch a plot to produce what they hope will be the worst musical in the history of Broadway and open and close it on the same night, in order to scam the millions of dollars they got from their wide array of investors. The problem is that the musical they chose to be that surefire flop – “Springtime for Hitler” – becomes a surefire hit.
Ms. Cameron feels thrilled to be helming this production, not only because she is working with such a prestigious theatre company as the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, but she gets the chance to work on a play that was created by Mel Brooks, whose comedy films she has watched and admired since she was a child. “I cannot remember a time in my life without Mel Brooks. He is a comedy genius, and he created something quite hysterical with ‘The Producers’,” she said. “In fact, when I picked the cast for ‘The Producers’, I told them it was essential that they watched the original movie, especially the cast members who were chosen to portray Max and Leo, because I wanted them to pay homage to Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder with their performances.”
As for the scene that contains the opening musical number of “Springtime for Hitler” (which, is you remember seeing the original movie, contained a lot of actors dressed in Nazi uniforms and prominently featured their swastika symbol), Ms. Cameron is aware that now, as it did in 1968, may touch some raw nerves, but assures that it stays in the spirit of Brooks’ original intention, which is to laugh at Hitler for what he really was, which was as a bully.
“We’re not trying to take away the seriousness of this important part of history. In ‘The Producers’, we’re laughing at the world of show business and the craziness that goes with it. That way, it portrays Hitler as nothing but a dictator and a bully, and he becomes someone to laugh at. And when that happens, you remove that mystique of evil from him, which is quite powerful,” she said.
“Everybody knows the show’s premise, in which Hitler is being made fun of. That scene is going to be done in a tasteful, humourous manner, so that no one is going to be offended,” added Mayor Brownstein.
Work on “The Producers” began almost immediately after it was announced last spring that it would be part of the Segal Centre’s 2015-2016 season line-up. Ms. Cameron admitted that one of the biggest challenges was translating Brooks’ script into Yiddish (a process that began last August), and how Brooks’ sense of humour would literally not get lost in that translation.
“This is a show about show business, and Yiddish has been an integral part of the show business language for many years, so it was an easy fit to have ‘The Producers’ done in Yiddish. There will also be some English dialogue included, so it will a strike a sense of balance,” she said. “Witnessing the process of having ‘The Producers’ translated into Yiddish was quite eye opening. It was fascinating and compelling to sit down with the company and explore the script and see how the genius of Mel Brooks’ comedy go from English to Yiddish without getting lost in the translation.”
And would Mel Brooks himself make the trip to Montreal to catch the opening night of his comedy masterpiece performed for the first time in Yiddish? “Let’s just say our people have been talking to his people, so Mr. Brooks is aware about our production,” said Ms. Cameron. “However, if he did come to see the show, I would be over the moon. But being part of this milestone production, I already feel that I won the lottery; it’s a true gift to me.”
* * *
Tickets for the Dora Wassreman Yiddish Theatre/Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society production of “The Producers” cost between $50 and $64. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 514-7397944, or go to www.segalcentre.org.