Will it flop or will it go?
It’s the inherent question and risk of any theatrical venture, and when the bottom line is figured in, most producers will err on the safe side, going with a tried-and-true hit. It may seem as if Bainbridge Performing Arts has taken the safe route by staging a play that earned a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, but this one’s got a twist. Or two. OK, three.
“The Producers” is a hit play about a flop. And it’s anything but safe. Saturated in satire, it’s not afraid to push the limits of good taste in search of a laugh.
Mel Brooks, known for his audacious humor, pairs has-been producer Max Bialystock with timorous accountant Leo Bloom in a bungling scam to make a bundle by staging the “world’s worst play.” With such devious protagonists, the challenge is to win the audience to their side. The cast is a bizarre assemblage of dysfunction: a neurotic accountant, a narcissistic director, a Nazi playwright, and a brazen bombshell.
The campy musical, which opens tonight for a three-weekend run, hinges on the synergy of a classic odd couple. Rehearsing since late August, Rusty Flounders, playing Bialystock, and Tim Davidson in the Bloom role, took some time to find the comedic common ground between them.
“It’s not enough for me to be funny and Rusty to be funny, we have to be funny together,” Davidson said.
Flounders, who took a turn as Max in a Gig Harbor version of the play, had to adjust to Davidson’s less-vaudeville portrayal of Bloom.
“It’s working now because we found the heart of the characters,” Flounders said.
Director Teresa Thuman corroborates. “We’ve worked hard to find ‘the little moments.’ The large and obvious ones are clear, but the stages of their relationship reveal themselves in more subtle ways,” she said.
The character arcs are woven between the gags and big production numbers.
“Max is a reluctant hero,” Flounders said. “He’s a catalyst really. He is able to show a level of friendship and teamwork that Leo has never known.”
In fact, teamwork is a recurring theme. Not only on stage, but behind the curtain as well. Musicals are complicated endeavors to pull off, but throw in a barrage of physical comedy and the whole thing teeters on split-second timing.
“The comedy is choreographic,” Thuman said. “This is a collaborative effort with choreographer Jessica Low.”
Low, who has spent 10 years in theater, in turn lauds the contribution of movement coach Ken Michels, who “helps the actors make the moments work.”
“He’s an expert in physical comedy and clowning,” Thuman said. “He helps keep it clean and precise.”
During rehearsals, Low and Michels worked with Flounders, Davidson and Jason Fowler, who plays Roger de Bris, to finesse the timing of a sight gag. Each run-through – and there were many – squeezed ever more impact from a 20-second “bit.”
Teamwork was called for even in emergencies. Just as rehearsals were getting under way, the costumer dropped out due to a family situation. No small slot to fill in a production with 29 cast members, some with four and five wardrobe changes.
The show, even one about the world’s worst play, must go on, and between actor Emily Kight, BPA’s artistic director Steven Fogell, stage manager Deirdre McCollom, and a few borrowed, begged and rented costumes, the show girls will have ruffles and the storm troopers will be booted.
Storm troopers? Show girls? Uh huh – and nuns, Bavarians and a blind violinist. Spectacle isn’t overstating it.
“Every single number is a show-stopper,” vocal director Lynda Sue Welch said.
“We have huge ensemble numbers, and then there are the solos.”
Talk about flaunting it if you got it: Rebekah Krupke, in the role of über-sexy Ulla, gets to work her über-impressive pipes.