Friday May 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- From screen to stage and back to screen. That’s been the crazy journey for Mel Brooks’ "The Producers." This weekend, Brooks’ inspired musical comedy about a con man producer and his unlikely partner in crime, a mild-mannered accountant, comes back to the stage.

"The Producers," which won 12 Tonys and ran for over 2,500 performances in New York, opens tonight in a BCC Players production at the Robert Boland Theater at Berkshire Community College’s Koussevitzky Arts Center, where it is scheduled to run this weekend and next.

Adapted from Brooks’ 1968 film comedy, which co-starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, "The Producers" focuses on a scheme by a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, to separate his investors -- primarily elderly widows -- from their money by producing the worst Broadway musical ever seen, "Springtime for Hitler." Instead of a disaster, however, "Springtime for Hitler" becomes Broadway’s hottest ticket.

Brooks wrote the music and lyrics. Thomas Meehan cowrote the book with Brooks.

The Broadway production starred Nathan Lane as Max and Matthew Broderick as the accountant, Leo Bloom -- roles they reprised in the 2005 film version of the Broadway musical.

"All the characters work. Brooks is so precise," said Corey Doucette (who plays Max), during a backstage pre-rehearsal interview where he was joined by his onstage partner, Cody Lee Miller, who plays Leo; the production’s director, Tom Towne; choreographer Andrea Borak (no relation to the writer of this article); and music director Carl ton Maaia II.

"I’m in love with Mel Brooks, his facility with language, how he makes things work," Towne said. "It’s so incredibly filled with visual shtick. And Brooks isn’t afraid to make fun of his own, and society’s, foibles and failings."

Miller and Doucette have big shoes to fill. While Miller has seen the 2005 film musical and Doucette has seen both Brooks’ original 1968 film comedy and a recent PBS special about conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas and the rich tradition of Yiddish theater and humor in his family, Miller and Doucette are determined to cast these roles in their own images.

Towne has helped the process along by asking everyone in his cast to fill out character background forms; creating back stories about the characters they are playing.

"Brooks makes these characters so lovable," Borak said. "The relationship between Max and Leo is so wonderful. They pay their dues in the end but even then they are so lovable."

Max looms just about larger than life. "(He’s) not afraid to go a mile when he only needs an inch," Towne said.

The key in creating him, Doucette says, is to start small.

The relationship between Max and Leo stands at the center of a musical that has its zany, antic way with a variety of film and theater traditions, styles and genres. That spoofing sensibility is reflected in Brooks’ score -- his first ever for Broadway.

"(Brooks) quotes styles of music that exactly fit the moment," Maaia said. "(The music) has been put together by a number of Broadway arrangers but Brooks knows how it all goes.

"His real genius is that musically he quotes all these styles but the score is never derivative."

In preparing the dance numbers, Borak says she began with Susan Stroman’s original steps and then worked backward.

The cast -- a blend of BCC students and older, more experienced performers from the broader Berkshires community -- covers a range of ages and dance skills.

"Time (in terms of rehearsal) is a factor for us," Borak said, "So the goal is to make the dancers look comfortable doing what they’re doing.

"She’s brilliant at making that work," Towne said.

Towne says he’s had "The Producers" on his wish list for some time. Because of its equal-opportunity-offensive nature, "The Producers" is not a show he can do at Wahconah High School, where he teaches and directs.

Towne believes the time couldn’t be more right for "The Producers."

"In this day and age, we need to laugh," he said. "We need to be way over the top and get away from our trials and tribulations.

"It’s been a thrill working on this with Andrea, with Carlton and especially with this cast, (who) put out a lot and put up with a lot. It’s just a thrill for me to watch them take the bull by the horns and make this happen, make it their own."

To reach Jeffrey Borak:
jborak@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6212.
On Twitter: @BE_Theater