Shorewood Players The Producers: A Winning Scheme
Recipe for a successful community production of a Tony-winning musical:
Step 1: Start with a great Director, Music Director and Choreographer;
Step 2: Cast a wide net for professional-caliber lead actors, and a great ensemble.
Step 3: Invest in eye-catching costumes, sets and a full orchestra
Step 4: Dine on the feast of thunderous ovations.
If that’s the formula, the Shorewood Players’ The Producers, A Mel Brooks Musical baked a blue-ribbon winner.
Let’s start with the actors: Bob Zimmerman as Max Bialystock, the past-his-prime Broadway Producer, is the balance point on which the show rests. Zimmerman holds the facade of success in public as the straight man for the comic performances of the other leads. He also shows cracks of riotous desperation and failure in private. Zimmerman’s performance is a true tour-de-force.
Adam Moreno inhabits the timidity of accountant Leo Bloom. In the course of the show, he leads us to applaud his evolution of a spine and cheer for his success in love. If Zimmerman is the nervous system of the show, Moreno is the heart.
As Swedish femme fatale Ulla, Samantha Sostarich makes a demanding role seem effortless. Ulla is at once innocent, sexy, manipulative and clever. Sostarich conveys it through with broad range from subtle hip movements and quiet cooing through brassy vocal belting and lively dancing.
In Friday’s opening performance, Robby Schuettpelz earned a standing ovation in mid-show for his hilarious turn as Franz Leibkind, the Nazi playwright of Springtime for Hitler. At one moment, he is cuddles with his pigeons, and moments later he looms over Max and Leo with threats of death. His musical numbers, especially “Have You Ever Heard a German Band?” are standouts.
If Michael Travia and Roc Bauman were any lighter on their feet, they’d float away. As Broadway Director Roger Debris and his common law assistant Carmen Ghia, they indulge Mel Brooks’ collection of gay jokes and sight gags. Is it politically correct to laugh? I suppose not, but I couldn’t stop.
The ensemble sets a remarkable table for these actors. From the usherettes, to Roger’s Creative Team, to the Little Old Ladies and the Singing and Dancing Hitlers, and many, many others, they keep the entertainment momentum until the next belly-laugh. In a different production some of these performers would have been stars; their solid performances in supporting roles lift the entire production.
Shorewood Players’ reputation draws a talented pool of actors for auditions. Director Terry Grazer finds the gems in that pool, whether it’s a professional looking for a special role, or a less experienced actor with a special insight. With The Producers, Grazer’s casting was dead-on. Timing in a comedy can be brutal, but here he directed with precision. His staging took full advantage of the Shorewood Auditorium stage, including a magnificent set for Roger’s Apartment and the Springtime for Hitler set, Kudos to Set Designer Matt Carr and Construction Manager Joel Eisen and their crew.
Choreographer Amie Ferrante also found a corps of talented dancers and gave them a range of challenging numbers. Many moments were much closer to professional than the normal box steps of community theatres. Ferrante wisely used dances originated by Susan Strohman for the Broadway production, but left her own personal imprint.
From the first notes of the overture through the post curtain serenade, Adrianna Stoiber’s Music Direction was superb. The 16 piece orchestra deserves a standing ovation of their own—they are definitely worth the price of admission.
Costumes by Karen Pogorelc and Kim Heuber were stunning. Memorable numbers were Ulla’s German Falcon, the German Showgirls and Roger’s gown, but there were many more that were perfect for just telling us in fabric, color and style about the character who wears them.
The Producers continues through November 22. For more information, visit www.shorewoodplayers.org.