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Vaudevillian humor and great tunes fuel the Civic’s production of The Producers
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Harvey Cocks has directed the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s summer musical for the past 11 years, yet there’s something about The Producers that seems particularly suited to Cocks. The story is set in the hustle and bustle of the old New York theater world that Cocks was a part of for many years and knows very, very well.
And even though the story and characters are exaggerated and played strictly for laughs, Cocks says he found some of it still rang true. “Oh, yes, it reminds me of the old days,” he laughs. “There’s this scene at an audition and boy, it’s reminiscent of many, many auditions I went to. And the character Brad (Beauchamp) plays, he reminds me of this producer and agent named Chamberlain Brown…”
The Civic’s production of The Producers, which opens Saturday, July 25, marks the Civic’s premier of the award-winning Broadway musical, famously based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name and adapted for the stage by Brooks and Thomas Meehan in 2001. The Broadway production snagged a record 12 Emmys and ran for a zillion performances.
The film version of the musical… errr, not so well received. But it’s the stage production that people remember and love. “Usually, I go to see a comedy and I don’t laugh. I’m always analyzing,” says Harvey Cocks. “But I went to see this show several years ago, and I found myself laughing. It’s a great vaudeville show.”
The description of the show as vaudevillian is perfect. The jokes fly at you fast-and-furious, with over-the-top caricatures and situations. In a nutshell, down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (Brad Beauchamp) and his accountant Leopold Bloom (Bob Ahlersmeyer) figure out that a massive failure on Broadway could make as much money as a success, since the IRS wouldn’t investigate a play that was a flop. They cook up a scheme to get rich by creating a guaranteed catastrophe.
So Bloom and Bialystock embark on a journey through the New York theater world, enlisting the help of the worst director — Roger De Bris (Richard Marchbanks), a ridiculously flamboyant homosexual caricature (though in the age of Bruno, De Bris seems almost quaint) — and finding their sure-fire miss in the play Springtime for Hitler by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Jim Matusik). Rounding out the cast of characters is Ulla (Melissa Long. Yes, that Melissa Long), their Swedish secretary.
“We’re not going to offend everybody,” says Brad Beauchamp, who plays Max Bialystock. “But you can’t beat a Mel Brooks script. I mean, it just screams broad, broad humor.” (the show is Rated R).
Beauchamp adds that he loves playing a larger-than-life character, and thinks Cocks is the perfect director for the material. “I think I play ‘big’ on stage, but Harvey just keeps saying ‘go bigger.’ And he’s right on. The script is this vaudevillian schtick. One-liners are always coming around the corner, but you can’t sit on them, you’ve got to zing them and move on, because there are another 12 coming at you.”
But if Beauchamp has no problem with The Producers vaudevillian schtick, there is one member of the cast who Cocks says turned to him during rehearsals and said “what have you gotten me into?”
And that would be Melissa Long, who plays Ulla. Long has done many stage productions, but never a musical. “The last time I sang in front of anybody was I think in high school,” she says. “It has been a challenge, to put it mildly, but everyone tells you that you should push yourself and challenge yourself and do things out of your comfort zone…”
The singing and dancing aside, does the poised and respected INC anchor feel at all concerned about putting on an outrageous Swedish accent and playing… well, a bimbo? No! It takes a lot of skill and intelligence to play somebody who is that dumb,” Long laughs. “I’ll tell you the thing I was most concerned about was the fact that she’s supposed to be young and gorgeous. That’s what I was concerned about. I said ‘Harvey, do you know how old I am?’ And he said ‘don’t tell anyone.’ I said ‘everyone knows!’”
But Long, like the rest of the cast, is having a great time with The Producers, and thinks the audience will pick up on the fun they’re having on stage. “It’s just really funny,” says Beauchamp. “I mean, what a brilliant piece of writing. We’re thrilled to be doing it.”
Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents The Producers
Saturdays July 25, August 1 and 8 at 8pm
Fridays July 31, August 7 at 8 pm
Sundays July 26, August 2 and 9 at 2 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $24/adults; $16/youth (23 and younger)/ $20 Sunday senior matinee
Box Office: 422-8641 x222
The show is rated R