‘The Producers’ Produce One Heckuva Show

Faded and failed Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, comes up with a crookedly inspired idea when mousey accountant, Leo Bloom, innocently states that, under the right circumstances, a person could make more money with a Broadway flop than a hit.  With Bloom’s help, Bialystock plots to produce the biggest Broadway bomb in history and escape to Rio with the cash.  This is The Producers written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and closes the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Brooks and Meehan do an excellent job translating Brooks’ classic movie to the stage.  Overall, it is a tight, well told story, though there were a couple of scenes that felt like they were added solely to pad the show.  Brooks proves himself to be an especially effective songwriter with a score riddled with memorable, rib tickling numbers.  The script is helped by a very effective cast who brought their A game to a nearly sold out opening night house.

Jeff Horger triumphs with a superior piece of direction.  The staging of the show is beyond reproach.  He has led his actors to a series of varied and vibrant performances.  The bits of business are spot on and the scene changes are smooth as satin.

Steve Krambeck caps an impressive season with a sterling performance as Leo Bloom that may stake him a claim to the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire award.  It was a real treat to watch Krambeck play against type as the shy and repressed accountant who dreams to be a Broadway producer.  He stuns with his visceral uncomfortableness around women and his obsessive cuddling of his baby blanket when he gets overstressed.  Krambeck constructs a wonderful arc for Bloom as he grows in confidence during the course of the play and transforms from a mouse to a man.

Krambeck has an incredibly mellow tenor singing voice that I could sit and listen to all day.  This instrument was used to the fullest in numbers such as We Can Do It, I Wanna Be a Producer, and the  sweet That Face and ‘Til Him.  Krambeck also proved himself a surprisingly agile and graceful hoofer with his dance numbers.

Jim McKain’s performance as Max Bialystock is pitch perfect.  He’s so oily, so greedy, so much of a scoundrel.  Yet, deep down, he has a core of decency that peeks out from time to time and only grows stronger as Bloom’s niceness rubs off on him.  McKain has a very mighty tenor voice which soars in The King of Broadway, Where Did We Go Right?, and especially in Betrayed which is not only musically pleasing, but a physical acting tour de force.

Mike Palmreuter’s turn as Franz Liebkind is howlingly funny.  As the off kilter, bird loving, Nazi loyalist, Palmreuter nearly rips off this show.  His character is the author of Springtime for Hitler, the play within the play that Liebkind wrote to clear Hitler’s reputation.  Palmreuter’s bass voice beautifully booms in tunes like Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop and Have You Ever Heard the German Band?  His powerful frame disguises the fact that he is a nimble dancer whose animated moves provided some of the biggest laugh out loud moments of the night.

Lindsey Ussery is a sweet delight as Ulla, the Swedish woman trying to break into entertainment.  Ms Ussery has a good sense of movement maximized in her enticing audition for Bloom and Bialystock in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.  She has a pleasant alto voice which I rather enjoyed in This Face and her Swedish accent held up quite well.  Ms Ussery did sound a bit breathy at some points, so she’ll need to remember to keep up the breath support.

Ryan Pivonka is a scream as Roger DeBris.  DeBris is an overwrought queen who thinks shows should always remember to Keep it Gay.  He’s a lousy director who proves to be an equally inept actor when he is compelled to take over the role of Hitler and gives a 5 star horrific performance that had the audience guffawing at the top of their lungs in Springtime for Hitler.  Pivonka also rocks an evening gown surprisingly well.

The show’s ensemble cast was a hit with their sly little acting moments and extremely slick dancing.  Particular notice goes out to Don Harris who excels in several character roles, especially with his performance as Bloom’s bullying boss, Mr. Marks.  Zach Kloppenborg brings it as Carmen Guia, DeBris’ histrionic “common-law assistant”.  And I would also like to tip my hat to the puppeteer of Liebkind’s birds who gave a dandy performance of their own.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra couldn’t hit a wrong note if they tried.  Melanie Walters deserves an award for her choreography.  This was the best choreography I have seen in my 20 years in the business and you’re going to be amazed at what Ms Walters can do with a slew of walkers in Along Came Bialy.  Jim Othuse does some of his best work yet in the many pieces of scenery built from this show from the office of Bloom and Bialystock to the outside of the theatre to the multiple bits of scenery needed for the massive Springtime for Hitler scene.  Amanda Fehlner should be proud of her costuming especially in the musical within a musical as the stormtrooper and chorus girl outfits were some of the most creative I’ve seen.

The Producers is what good comedy is all about.  It doesn’t try to share a message and it doesn’t have a lot of depth.  It’s just a lot of fun and will take you out of yourself for a while.  The work of the entire cast and crew, especially that of Krambeck and McKain, will blow you away and I do believe I hear the sweet sound of cash registers ringing for the Playhouse, so be sure to buy a ticket today.

The Producers runs at the Playhouse through June 26.  Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesdays and $40 for adults and $25 for students Thurs-Sun.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit their website at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Parental discretion is advised for the show due to a little strong language and some suggestive moments.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

 

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OCP Holding Auditions for Season Finale “The Producers”

THE PRODUCERS
Production Dates: May 27-June 26, 2016
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Jeff Horger
Synopsis: Winner of 12 Tony Awards, The Producers is the hilarious, lively and absurd Mel Brooks comedy that follows Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom on their quest to become filthy rich on Broadway. They have created the perfect formula for wealth on the Great White Way —produce an utter and complete theatrical failure. Packed full of dancing Nazis, storm troopers and showgirls, their musical Springtime for Hitler is a sure bet to bomb. Now they just need to sit back and let the dough roll in…

Audition Dates: Monday, March 14, 2016 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Character Descriptions:

MAX BIALYSTOCK (Late 30s to mid 60s) A Broadway producer who has fallen from grace. He either intimidates others with sarcasm and a fiery temper or placates them with seductive or confusing “mile a minute” wordplay. If that doesn’t work, he has carnal relations with them. Although he is far from athletic looking, he is a pure ball of energy from the moment the curtain goes up until he takes his final bow. He is the kind of person you would hate to meet in real life but love to watch on stage. BARITONE/TENOR.

LEO BLOOM (Mid 20s to early 40s) A mousy, nervous, and generally pathetic accountant who wants to be a Broadway producer. Introducing him to anyone and anything new or unusual sends him into a full-blown panic attack. He’s the underdog of the show we all root for. If you look beyond his wretched demeanor and lack of presence, he’s actually kind of a good-looking. TENOR.

ULLA (Mid 20s to late 30s) A Swedish actor hoping to make her big break. She is strikingly tall, conventionally beautiful, and unapologetically sexual. She speaks with a distinct Swedish accent, which occasionally affects her ability to communicate with others, but she is not stupid. She knows exactly what she wants and she is going to get it. She is frank in her discussion of sexuality, but she is not perverse. She’s European. MEZZO-SOPRANO.

FRANZ LIEBKIND (60s +) An active member of the Nazi party in Germany during World War II. While that is a pretty terrible character trait, it is doubtful that he was allowed to participate in anything important, or that he had the intellectual prowess to fully understand anything beyond the basic jingoism of the movement. He has an absurd romantic view of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, which forms the basis for his stage play Springtime for Hitler. It’s hard to take him seriously, a fact which is completely lost on him. Others regard him as unstable and dangerous, but it has a lot more to do with his being a loon than with his being a Nazi. BARITONE/BASS.

ROGER DE BRIS (late 20s to mid 50s) The worst working director in New York. Everything about him is over the top – think young Liza Minelli trapped in current Patton Oswalt’s body. He is openly gay and proud of it. As a narcissist, he’s proud of everything he does. The comedy of playing Roger doesn’t come from his sexuality, but rather from his ludicrousness. Although his career path has led him down the road of directing, he subconsciously longs for the spotlight and drama of being the leading lady. He has absolutely no idea how ridiculous he is. BARITONE/TENOR.

CARMEN GHIA (late 20s to mid 40s) Roger’s significant other. In addition to being Roger’s partner, he is also his personal assistant. He is prissy, squeaky, effervescent, and just as bizarre as Roger. The two of them have a tumultuous relationship made up of equal parts Bugs & Daffy, George & Martha, and Laverne & Shirley. TENOR.

NAZI SOLOIST (Early 20s to early 40s) A good looking Nazi soldier who sings the main theme song from Springtime for Hitler. He looks like a formal army officer, but he has charisma and strong stage presence.

ENSEMBLE  The casting team is currently looking at an ensemble of 8 to 10 women and 4 to 6 men. All members of the ensemble will play multiple roles, including but not limited to: accountants, ushers, Nazis, old ladies, prisoners, police officers, and Broadway actors/dancers. Several members of the ensemble will perform in drag. There are roles available for actors of any gender and race. Strong singing and dancing skills required. All ensemble members must be 18 years old before June 1st, 2016.

NOTES ABOUT THE SHOW
The Producers is a silly show. It is funny, but more so…it is absurd. There are traditional jokes written with a set-up and punchline. There are witty characters who play with language. There are clever lyrics that make you both chuckle and think. There is outrageous physical slapstick. There are unlikely circumstances that make characters squirm uncomfortably, to the point that we can’t help but laugh at them.
This is not a show about Nazis. It is a show about taste, and how there is no accounting for it. It is both an homage to and parody of Broadway musicals. It is a show about greed and what it makes us do, and how the pursuit of fortune and fame leads us blindly into ridiculous circumstances that could have been easily prevented.
This show contains mild language, cartoonish violence, and scatological humor. It pokes fun at musicals, New York, celebrities, the legal system, foreigners, homophobia, antisemitism, the elderly, sex, and the Nazi party.
This show requires triple threats who understand and can execute a specific style of comedy. The characters in this show exist in a reality similar to our own, and most of them don’t realize just how funny their situation is. The show doesn’t work if the actors lay the comedy on thick, trying to squeeze laughs out of the audience. They need to live truthfully and simply inhabit this bizarre world created by Mel Brooks.

What to Bring:
• Please come prepared with 16 bars of music prepared to sing. An accompanist will be provided.

• There will be a dance audition, please come dressed ready to move. No boots, sandals, flip-flops, slick shoes, etc.

• You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• A recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

Young Frankenstein is a Fiendishly Funny Finale for Beck and Baer-Collins

Take one part classic film comedy, add a musical score, sprinkle with high energy performances, mix liberally with top flight directing, and you’ve got Young Frankenstein.  The Playhouse’s season finale is the funniest comedy of the season as well as a fitting farewell from artistic leaders, Carl Beck and Susie Baer-Collins, who are retiring after the close of this production.

Once the first notes from the talented orchestra, led by the strong conducting of Jim Boggess, are played, you will be whisked into a world straight out of a Universal horror picture illustrated by a haunting and archaic set designed by Jim Othuse, who has really topped himself with this production.  The funny, inventive, and nuanced direction from Baer-Collins and Beck, combined with a superb troupe of performers, and sharp choreography from Melanie Walters will have your ribs aching from laughter when the night is through.

I’m always a bit leery when a show is changed from one medium to another because something is usually lost in the translation.  However, I was quite surprised by how well this show worked as a musical.  The numbers felt natural and I really enjoyed the use of metahumor as the show repeatedly acknowledges the fact that this is a musical.  As good as the show was, I did think the script was a bit weaker than its source material as the musical eliminates some great scenes and jokes from the film version and replaces them with gags that are hit and miss.  But any jokes that miss the mark are quickly forgotten thanks to the talented group of performers gracing the stage.

High praise is due to the talented ensemble which proves the old adage about there being no small roles.  Each member is always fully involved with the show, adding delightful bits of character to their performance which made them a treat to watch.  Especially entertaining were Christopher Work as Ziggy, the town idiot and Steve Krambeck, who owns the stage in a cameo as Victor Frankenstein where he displays an amazing singing voice as he persuades Frederick to “Join the Family Business”.

Ablan Roblin has a heavy load to bear as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein/Fronkunsteen.  Blessed with a fine, tenor voice, Roblin does well with the singing part of the role, but he lacked an x factor that I believe was necessary for the character on the acting side.  Roblin also had a few moments where his projection and diction weakened and he also sped over a couple of lines that would have been hilarious with a slower pace and slight change of delivery.  That being said, he also has some shining moments such as when he meets Igor (“Together Again for the First Time) and when he attempts to persuade the Monster that he is loved (“Man About Town”).

This night belonged to Spencer Williams who seemed to be channeling Marty Feldman in his interpretation of Frankenstein’s servant, Igor/Eyegor.  From the moment Williams makes his first entrance, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.  With subtle shifts of expression, brilliant phrasing, and a hunched over, rubbery kneed posture, Williams stole every scene he was in and gave one of the three strongest performances seen on a Omaha stage this season.

Equally brilliant was Judy Radcliff as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper and girlfriend of the late Victor Frankenstein.  Matching Williams’ Igor step for step with her impeccable comic timing, Ms Radcliff had the audience rolling in the aisles with her stonefaced, overenunciating, surly antics.  Proving just as effective on the musical side, Ms Radcliff has one of the evening’s best numbers as her powerful alto voice belts out “He Was My Boyfriend”.

Kirstin Kluver has a nice turn as Inga, Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant.  Utilizing a flawless Swedish accent, Ms Kluver infuses Inga with a balanced blend of sweetness and sultriness.  Her impressive soprano voice also delighted the audience with renditions of “Roll in the Hay” and “Listen to Your Heart”.

Ryan Pivonka does an exceptional job with the role of the Monster.  Despite being limited to grunts for most of the show, Pivonka manages to put meaning behind those grunts so you always know what the Monster is thinking.  He also has an expertly developed sense of movement as his clunky steps as the Monster still have a type of grace and fluidity about them.

Julia Mackenzie is one of the show’s highlights as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée, Julia.  Though engaged to Frederick, Ms Mackenzie’s Julia is clearly in love with herself.  So vain is she that Frederick is only allowed physical contact with her in his dreams (“Please Don’t Touch Me).  Ms. Mackenzie’s devastating comic acumen and soaring vocals provided some very nice moments in the production.

Joe Dignoti is a hoot in the dual role of Inspector Kemp/the Hermit.  As Inspector Kemp, Dignoti keeps the audience in stitches with his stiff right arm and left leg and a brilliantly over the top accent.  He’s even funnier as the blind hermit who pleads with God to “Please Send Me Someone” with a facile bass.  Dignoti’s accidental torturing of the Monster as the Hermit is one of the funniest scenes in the play.

Ultimately the show is a truly satisfying night of entertainment and a classic example of the void that will be left in the theatre community after Beck and Baer-Collins take their final bows.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see them shine one last time through this production.

Young Frankenstein plays at the Omaha Playhouse until June 29.  Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($24 for students). Call the theatre for reservations at 402-553-0800.   The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.