On Sunday afternoon I drove north of Indianapolis to Noblesville, Indiana to see “The Producers” at an all-volunteer community theatre called the Belfry. The theatre building is a renovated church that still has its bell. Every time a performance begins, one of the crew rings the bell up in the little tower as the curtain rises on the stage down below. The curtain is covered in hand-painted advertisements for local businesses. The Belfry enjoys strong support from its community in terms of ticket sales, too. Shows there often sell out.
In fact, I overhead someone associated with “The Producers” tell someone else that this past weekend, both the Friday and Saturday night shows were sold out. For Saturday night they had 40 people on the waiting list, with 15 people actually standing in the lobby at ten ‘til eight, still hoping to get in!
“The Producers” is a fun show, with catchy songs and a lot of laughs. And what this particular production lacks in polish it makes up for with heart. There were several technical glitches at the performance I saw, and maybe some missed opportunities in terms of direction. The musical accompaniment is all pre-recorded and sometimes the pacing of it is too slow. However, the word that kept coming to mind as I watched this show was “endearing.”
Here are some of its elements that I especially appreciated:
- Rich Baker and Mark Tumey star as veteran Broadway theatrical producer Max Bialystock and producer-wannabe Leo Bloom, respectively. Both actors have strong, beautiful voices and good comic timing. Also, each actor makes his character sexy in his own way. Leo is sexy because he is just so darn cute and shy. Max is sexy for the opposite reason: because he is just so darn handsome and experienced. Also, the friendship that develops between them in spite of their many differences is completely believable. These two actors ground the whole show and provide treat after treat.
- Maggie Herrington is breathtaking as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell/angel that drops into Max and Leo’s office to audition for their next show. I mean it: I stopped breathing for a moment or two because Maggie Herrington is so pretty and graceful, herself, with a lovely singing voice, and she gives Ulla an intoxicating personality as well.
- Rob Wesley as Franz, the Nazi-in-hiding/playwright, and his loyal pigeons are a hoot. He, too, has a strong, admirable singing voice. I’m not sure who to give credit to for the funny pigeons in their large, wire-fronted cage. My program says that Russ Clinton, Sandy Elam, Sherri Byer, Rusty Clinton, Larry Wagner, and Elaine Wagner were in charge of properties.
- The set is very bare-bones in some ways, but it has elements of wit that made me laugh out loud in delight. I won’t give them away except to say “filing cabinets” and “white.” The set was designed by Gail Tumey. It was decorated by Gail Tumey, Dick Cass, Bob Crandall, Bill Dix, Dana Roberts, Kendall Roberts, Dick Eagan, Gino Small, and Mark Tumey.
- The two actors who play the two main flaming gay characters – Nils Nordell as self-absorbed Broadway director Roger de Bris and Scott Wyatt as his highly sensitive assistant, Carmen – are fully committed to their over-the-top roles and give them a specificity that is hilarious.
In fact, I appreciated that all of the cast members were fully committed to dancing, singing, and acting their best in spite of the equipment malfunctions that happened on this particular day. I admired several of the actors who have cameos – including Ginny Burt as the aptly named “Kiss Me Feel Me” – and several of the dancers who have solos – including tap dancer Zach Donovan – and several of the actors who differentiate multiple roles – including Duane Leatherman as the grouchy Mr. Marks/weary Judge/and more, and Marcus Waye as the effete Kevin/eager auditioner/and more. These are just a few examples.
I also especially appreciated the dancing and the beaded costumes in the “I Wanna Be a Producer” number. Norma Floyd designed the costumes. The costume crew includes Melissa Castaldo, Jonelle Gandy, Meg Tomlin, Hannah Kim, Christina Burch, Melody Donovan, Robyn Floyd, and the cast. I admire them for coming up with so many grey wigs for the “Along Came Bialy” number, too!
At intermission I happened to chat with Carol Snider, a choreographer who had been called in by the director “to help with the bigger numbers.” (The other choreographers listed in the program are Pam Lankster, Maggie Herrington, and Nancy Clinton.) It was fun to hear a little about their process. I was struck again by the level of commitment that community theatre volunteers make to their communities whenever they agree to work on a show in any capacity.
This kind of impromptu conversation is what I missed last year while I was an Encore Association judge. I don’t care so much about being able to talk about the shows themselves with the actors or the director the minute the final curtain comes down. In fact, I am still going to flee after most shows even though I am now free again to linger because I hate having to come up with an assessment of a show or a performance on the spot. However, it feels good to be able to participate in random conversations with fellow audience members during intermission again. I love hearing about what brought people to the theatre, and who they are outside of the theatre. On Sunday, for example, it was fun to hear that one of Carol Snider’s other dance-related jobs is teaching tap to people aged 55-82 at Oasis.
Getting back to this show, I also want to mention the lighting design, which is by Jim Williams, because it includes some clever spot light work. The lighting operator is Fran Knapp.
Also: although this show is still probably for adults and teens only, the “Oh, my gods” have been changed to “Oh, my goshes.”
“The Producers” was directed at the Belfry by Carla Crandall, assisted by Nancy Clinton and with musical direction by Betsy Bullis. Jeff Bick and Anne Auwaerter are the stage managers. The stage crew includes MaryJo Bick, Morgan Bick, Sherri Byer, Christy Clinton, Wesley Corey, Judy Hancock, Chris Kolter, Ron Richards, Dana Roberts, Kendell Roberts, Linda Stroud, Barb Weaver, David Todd, Kelly Weaver, Daniel Shock, and Mel Donovan.
Several of the stage crew also sing, dance, and/or act in cameo roles and/or in the Ensemble. The Ensemble includes Kristen Alesia, Monica Brothers, Melissa Castaldo, Kelli Conkin, Ryan Conkin, Terri Corey, Zach Donovan, Rob Lawson, Andy Peck, Diane Reed, Gary Rosemary, Ryan Shelton, Marcus Waye, Sara Wills, and Scott Wyatt. Wesley Corey is the Trustee.
The book is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks.
“The Producers” continues at the Belfry through Sunday, October 4, 2009. For reservations, please call 317-773-1085.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
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