Jewish Community Center's Gallery Players Stage THE PRODUCERS, Now thru 3/16

Jewish Community Center's Gallery Players Stage THE PRODUCERS, Now thru 3/16

The Jewish Community Center's Gallery Players are ready to bring audiences spectacle, over-the-top comedy, and breathlessly-paced music and dance. This March, the same team that staged the critically acclaimed Fiddler on the Roof will delight audiences with the multiple Tony Award-winning Mel Brooks musical, The Producers.

Mark Mann, who recently won Best Director at the Theatre Roundtable awards for Fiddler on the Roof, returns to Gallery Players to direct a show from one of his favorite comedians. He looks forward to taking audiences on a wild, unforgettable ride. "I hope their ribs hurt from laughing. If, when the curtain goes down at the end of the play, everyone hasn't found something offensive in it, then we've failed in our mission. That's what Mel Brooks wants. He spares virtually no one," Mann said.

Gallery Players committee chair Joan Fishel, who was recently in Fiddler on the Roof and who is member of the ensemble in The Producers, agreed that, "Nothing is sacred to Mel Brooks. In making fun of everybody and everything, no one can feel slighted."

The musical, which originally began as a 1968 movie of the same name, centers on a down-and-out Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, and his neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom. In misguided attempts to get back on top, the pair work together to stage a flop and bilk investors, hoping that audiences will reject the ill-conceived "Springtime for Hitler." To their dismay, the show becomes a hit. And along the way, every joke, gag, and insult Mel Brooks could fit into the two-hour script is thrown at audiences.

But the comedy is not without intention. In a March 2006 interview in Spiegel with Lars-Olav Beier, Brooks explained why he chose to use the offensive subject of Adolf Hitler as a source for comedy. "Of course it is impossible to take revenge for six million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths," said Brooks.

Mann said he will direct the musical with this in mind. "Mel's point is that the way to defeat that kind of person and that kind of thinking is to hold them up to ridicule. By making them so ridiculous, they lose their power."

Gallery Players Managing and Artistic Director Jared Saltman explained that this production will stay true to Mel Brooks' intention. "The word 'subtle' doesn't appear in the Mel Brooks lexicon, and we are going to make sure it doesn't appear in our production, either."

With a seven-piece orchestra, musical direction by Stephanie Stephens, and choreography by Nikki Montana, who also choreographed the Columbus Children's Theater production of The Producers, Saltman is excited to treat audiences to the larger than life musical parody, which features chorus girls, Storm Troopers, and puppets singing and dancing across the stage in number after number. "You're not going to have a more solid piece of entertainment for your dollar. The talents we've assembled are going to do this show really well. I can't wait to see it," said Saltman.

Todd Covert, who stars as Max Bialystock, also can't wait to see the end result. He has a long history in theater, with 25 years experience in film, television, and the stage, including Sondheim's Assassins in last fall's Red Herring production. A seasoned Gallery Players performer, Covert also was a member of the award-winning cast of Fiddler on the Roof.

"This is going to be a big production. You don't see big, Broadway musicals like this very often in Columbus. It's really great to be part of such a fast-paced show that has so much in it. With the speed of a Mel Brooks production, it becomes like you're flying when everything comes together. It's just an incredible feeling," said Covert.

Covert will play opposite Patrick Walters, who stars as Leo Bloom. The two actors enjoy working together, and it shows in the chemistry they have on stage. "I love working with Patrick," said Covert. "Our timing is going to be really good."

Walters, who has performed in Gallery Players' productions of Bye, Bye Birdie and Rags, and was most recently seen in CATCO's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Avenue Q, is excited to work with all his co-stars, including his wife, Brooke Walters.

"There are a lot of talented and giving actors in this production, so my plan is simple: to put all my attention on them. If I'm listening and responding to what they're giving me, I can only hope I'm giving them the same thing in return. And that usually keeps the show fresh and real for every performance," Walters said.

The Producers is Walters' eighth production working with his wife, Brooke. It marks the third time the pair will be playing opposite each other on stage. But to star together as love interests in The Producers, Patrick as Leo and Brooke as Ulla, Walters said, is a once-in-lifetime opportunity. "We're loving every moment. The sparks start flying on stage and we get to take advantage of the chemistry we have."

And sparks, or perhaps sequins, will definitely fly between the show's pairing of Roger Debris and Carmen Ghia. That's because the two actors portraying this odd couple, Stewart Bender and Doug Joseph, will alternate their roles for every other performance. For the March 1 opening night, Bender will perform as Roger Debris, while Joseph will appear as the flamboyant yet buffoonish director of "Springtime for Hitler" during the production's final show.

Mann decided to cast both men for each part because, he said, "They're both so funny and talented. Each night, the interpretation will be different. We'll make two different scenes that will work for them specifically. Both their Rogers are absolutely distinct. Both their Carmen Ghias are absolutely distinct. Each actor brings something very different to the words on the page. It makes it really fun to direct."

"It's going to be an interesting ride, to be sure," said Joseph, a Columbus theater veteran whose comedic acting credits include Sunday in the Park with George, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Curtains, in which he also played a flamboyant director.

As a couple, Roger Debris and Carmen Ghia appear together in multiple scenes, adding to the comedy of errors. "So far it hasn't been as confusing as I anticipated. In terms of learning the lines, since we are usually interacting with one another, it's just a question of remembering who we are at any particular moment," Joseph explained.

"People should come back to see how each actor handles the part, because they will be different. In the 10 years I've been producing for Gallery Players, this is the first time we've ever done anything like this," said Saltman.

More fun is in store for audiences with the character of Franz Liebkind, who will be portrayed by Second City alum Ralph Scott. Liebkind is a dedicated but demented ex-Nazi who has written "Springtime for Hitler" as a love letter. "Anyone who's in love with Adolf Hitler has to be absolutely insane," said Scott. "That's the way I'm approaching it- just making him absolutely insane. I am trying to find as much funny in that character as I absolutely can, while making it come from a basis in reality so he doesn't look like a cartoon character."

For Scott, playing this role is a bit of a dream come true, and he is relishing every moment. He hopes the audience will share in his joy. Scott explained, "It is a dream of mine to heal the world with laughter. If there's one reason God sent me to this world, it is to heal with laughter, so that does drive me. If I can get a laugh out of someone and change their point of view, it lets go of tension. It lets go of everything."

The escapist comedy will have plenty of crescendos and moments of healing laughter. Audiences will be asked to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride. And, hopefully, Covert added, "People will walk out of the theater feeling really good. When you walk out feeling some emotion, that's the best kind of theater."

Show times for The Producers are as follows: 8 pm, today, March 1; 2:30 pm, Sunday, March 2; 7:30 pm, Thursday, March 6; 8 pm, Saturday, March 8; 2:30 pm, Sunday, March 9; 7:30 pm, Thursday, March 13; and two shows, at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, on Sunday, March 16. All shows take place in the Roth/Resler Theater of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, 1125 College Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209.

Tickets may be purchased online at www.jccgalleryplayers.org or by contacting the box office at (614) 231-2731. Tickets cost $25 for nonmembers and $20 for JCC members; $23 for senior nonmembers and $18 for senior members; $15 for children 17 years and under or for students with a valid ID; and $15 per ticket for groups of 20 or more.

Pictured: Todd Covert as Max Bialystock, Brooke Walters as Ulla, and Patrick Walters as Leo Bloom in Gallery Players the Producers.

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