FRANKLIN, Tenn. – In its current revival of The Producers Boiler Room Theatre follows a two-part plan for success that’s yielded good results before: Step 1, pick a perfectly-pitched musical comedy; Step 2, hire very talented folks to stage and perform it. I’m happy – though certainly not surprised – to report that plan still works well.
Of course, it’s hard to mess up a show that won 12 Tony Awards provided one has the right personnel, but assembling cast and crew for any production can be a challenge. Director Patrick Kramer has played Leo Bloom in another revival of the musical and his ability to direct was evident in 2007 when he helmed a terrific production of Urinetown at BRT, so he understands the challenges of mounting this piece in the theater’s rather cozy space.
I first saw The Producers just months after its 2001 Broadway opening with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick at New York’s St. James Theatre. I saw it again in 2004 when Lewis J. Stadlen and Alan Ruck headlined a national touring company that paid a visit to Tennessee Performing Arts Center. It doesn’t matter that the size and budget for BRT’s revival is smaller than those versions because those offstage and on this go-around clearly know how to make best use of their resources as well as the wonderful material created by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan.
Kramer has a dream team of local theater folk to aid him offstage – Assistant Director Britt Byrd, Musical Director Jamey Green, Choreographer Kate Adams, Costume Designer Cat Arnold, Set Designer Antonio P. Nappo and Lighting Designer Corbin Green. They are definitely the firm foundation upon which this production stands.
Adams’ choreography, for instance, is so invigorating and fun one may be tempted to jump up on stage (don’t give in to that temptation, of course, but those attending the show will quickly see what I mean); Jamey Green and his cohorts high above the stage are as usual in sync with the moods and movements in the music; Arnold’s costumes are just what every character needs (down to the sausages, beer and pretzels in “Springtime for Hitler”); Nappo craftily uses a turntable and other ingenious methods to represent a multitude of settings – and birds; Corbin Green once again has light calls that always underscore the action while illuminating it. Along with Byrd, Properties/Stage Manager Suzanne Hillwig and others it’s a crew any theater would like to have.
Any theater would also like the cast that’s led by Ryan Leyhue as has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystock, Tyler Evick as Bloom, the mild-mannered accountant who dreams of being a producer, and Catherine Birdsong as Ulla, a Swedish bombshell that turns out to be so much more.
Leyhue is a ball of comic energy from the moment he lets us know that Bialystock was once “The King of Old Broadway,” and his “Betrayed” solo is dynamite; Evick is a hoot as the socially inhibited Bloom, and his singing voice and dancing are delightful, particularly in “I Wanna to Be a Producer”; and Birdsong, a Belmont grad who’s found success on stage and TV in Los Angeles, makes every moment of “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” – along with several other parts of the show – a sheer joy to watch and hear with her triple-threat abilities.
The trio have chemistry with each other as well as their fine supporting cast mates in such numbers as “We Can Do It,” “That Face” and “Along Came Bialy.” Chief among that fine support for this (to borrow from Brooks) “equal opportunity offender” satire is Chad Webb as the flamboyant director Roger DeBris, Chase Miller as his sharp-tongued assistant Carmen Ghia and Andy Riggs as the lunatic Nazi-turned-playwright Franz Liebkind (the latter two, incidentally, are making their BRT debuts). The rest of a high-stepping, hard-working (they all play multiple roles) and thoroughly entertaining cast includes Corrie Miller, Julia Marie Nettles, Kathryn Clubb, Stephanie Brooks, Andrea Howat, Brooke Mihalek, Cary Foust Street, Justin Boyd, Christopher Anderson, Dan Zeigler, Tyler Henry, Grant Vanosdall and Anthony Just.
The musicians working with conductor and keyboardist Jamey Green – Mark Beall, who’s also on keyboards, Rick Malkin on drums/percussion, Peter Duarte on trumpet, Doug Bright on bass, Charis Mackrell on violin and Robert Adams on trombone – are also playing multiple parts like the actors; I think the original Broadway production had about 23 players in the pit, so think about all the work these seven have to do to bring Brooks’ colorful score to life as well as they do.
If you’ve seen The Producers before, you’ll enjoy seeing it again; if it’s your first time, you’re in for a treat. When it comes to producing terrific musical comedies Boiler Room Theatre has got it – and knows how to flaunt it – once again.
Upcoming Season: BRT’s upcoming season will include five musicals and two plays – Bonnie and Clyde, The History Boys, McBeth the Musical, Young Frankenstein, Annie, Same Time Next Year and Legally Blonde.
What will be different about the upcoming season is that it won’t be over a calendar year as the troupe has done since 2001. The owners of the Factory at Franklin are removing an unused furnace and doing renovations on the building that Boiler Room calls home after the theater completes its current season with Scrooge the Musical Dec. 6-22.
More dressing room space is one of the renovations that are scheduled to be completed by May 2014, when Corbin Green, the company’s managing and technical director, says BRT is planning a grand reopening. “We are as excited about the changes at the theatre as when we originally opened 13 years ago,” he tells ArtsNash. “We are trying to create an even better environment for performers and audiences alike.”
Boiler Room Theatre’s production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers continues through Nov. 16 in its Factory at Franklin venue (230 Franklin Rd., Bldg. 6). Performances are every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evening during the run at 8 p.m. There will also be a discount Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Nov. 3 and a “Thrifty Thursday” show at 8 p.m. on Nov. 7. Regular ticket prices are $27 for adults, $25 for seniors (age 60 and up) and students (age 13 through college with valid ID), and $21 for children ages 3 through 12. Matinee prices are $2 less respectively. Thrifty Thursday prices are $17 each. All Tuesday shows are two-for-one ($27 for two tickets; no other discounts apply). Tickets may be purchased by calling Boiler Room Theatre at (615) 794-7744 or online at www.boilerroomtheatre.com.
*Photos by Rick Malkin and Kate Adams courtesy Rick Malkin Photography and Boiler Room Theatre.