The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present The Producers, Mel Brooks’ and Thomas Meehan’s hit musical adaptation of Brook’s classic 1968 film comedy, on March 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12 at 8:00 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. The production features seniors Mary Lou Kolbenschlag and Evan Thompson and is directed by faculty member Ethan Heard with choreography by junior Eamon Foley.
As in the 1968 film, the musical follows the hilarious antics of down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his timid accountant Leo Bloom as they team up in a get-rich-quick scheme to convince a bevy of widows to invest in what the producers plan to be the world’s worst show. Aiming to oversell shares and for the show to flop and close on opening night, they plan to pocket the money and head to South America. Joined by a buxom Swedish secretary, Ulla, and a colorful assortment of outrageous characters, the pair set off to produce the ridiculous musical, Springtime for Hitler.
The stage musical of the film opened on Broadway in 2001 starring Nathan Lane as Max and Matthew Broderick as Leo, garnering a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. In a film version of the musical released in 2005, Lane and Broderick reprised their roles, joined by Uma Thurman as Ulla and Will Farrell as Franz, the Nazi playwright.
In the Lewis Center production directed by Heard, the emphasis is on “theater about theater.” “While Max and Leo scheme to produce the biggest flop in Broadway history,” notes Heard, “The audience gets to see the backstage drama.” The creative team behind the production celebrates the thrills and snafus of putting together a big musical by exposing the seams of the production: the band will be visible on stage, actors will scramble to change costumes and assemble scenery as madcap shortcuts are taken. “We are creating a world of glamour and grittiness, style and scrappiness,” adds Heard.
This interpretation of The Producers will also examine the role of gender performance as actors take on different characters to explore what it takes to be a Broadway showgirl, a rich old lady, or a Nazi playwright. The production is intended to illuminate and explode gender stereotypes.
Thompson, who will take on the role of timid accountant Leo Bloom, has had a prolific theatrical career at Princeton appearing in the Lewis Center production Floyd Collins, in Princeton University Players’ productions of Assassins and The Last Five Years, as well as leads in several Princeton Summer Theater productions including last summer’s comedic turn inThe 39 Steps. Kolbenschlag, who will play both Ulla and the Nazi playwright Franz, has also been an active member of Princeton’s theatrical community. She directed last spring’s Triangle Club show and has appeared in Pippin at the Lewis Center and in Princeton University Players production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The two seniors have also appeared together in the Lewis Center’s productions of Kiss Me Kate and Hedda Gabler and in Triangle Club fall shows.
Heard is a theater maker based in New York City. In January he directed Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea for Princeton’s Department of Music and is currently teaching “Acting and Directing in Musical Theater” with Broadway director John Rando at the Lewis Center. He has directed a broad range of theater including Sondheim and Lapine’s musical Sunday in the Park with George, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Amelia Roper’s Lottie in the Late Afternoon, Justin Taylor’s Rodeo, and M.J. Kaufman’s Eligible Receivers. He served as Artistic Director of The Yale Cabaret while a student at Yale School of Drama. Heard played a key role in the inaugural Santa Fe Theatre Festival in 2009 and, in addition to directing productions at Yale, has directed for Berkshire Theatre Festival, Yale Baroque Opera Project, Williamstown Workshop, and Grotto Theatre.
The all-student cast also features Jake Robertson ’15 in the role of Max along with an ensemble of actors portraying multiple characters: Billy Cohen ’16, Will Plunkett’16, Allen Hernandez ’16, Brian Lax ’15, Luke Pfleger ’17, Pat Rounds ’15, Evan Strasnick ’15, Maeve Brady ’15, Anna Aronson ’16, Katie Birenboim ’16, Emily Libresco ’17, Allison Malkowski ’14, Alexa Pugh 14, Amy Sun ’14, and Kamber Hart ’16.
The production will feature a set design by Edward Morris, costumes by Aaron Mastin, lighting design by Eric Falcon ’15, and sound design by Jeff Gary. Musical direction is by the Lewis Center’s Vince Di Mura on piano and conducting musicians Emily Whitaker ’15 also on piano, David Sahar ’17 on bass, and Mark Cristofaro on drums. Lily Gold ’14 serves as stage manager with additional students in production roles including Ted Callon ’17, Celina Culver ’15, Sonya Hayden ’16, and Emily Whitaker ’15.
Tickets for The Producers are $15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and are available through the McCarter box office at 609.258.2787, through Princeton University Ticketing by calling 609.258.9220, at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office, or at the Berlind box office on the evenings of performances.