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Spotlight on The Arlington Players’ The Producers

By • Apr 17th, 2010 • Category: Interviews
The Producers
The Arlington Players
Thomas Jefferson Theater, Arlington, VA
Through April 24th
3:00, with one intermission
$20/$15 Seniors and Juniors
Interviewed April 14, 2010

Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Chris Dykton, the director of the Arlington Players’ production of The Producers. Thanks for talking with me today, Chris.

Chris: I am delighted to be here.

Mike: So tell me a little about the Producers. What is the show about?

Chris: The Producers is based off of Mel Brook’s movie from the 1960’s about Max Bialystock, a producer on Broadway who is very unsuccessful. He meets up with a gentleman by the name of Leo Bloom who is an accountant and they concoct this scheme in which they are able to run off with all the money with a very bad show, Springtime For Hitler. The good thing about this is that it is ribald comedy in the Mel Brooks style. That movie was kind of a cult classic that Mel Brooks developed in 2001. It debuted in on Broadway as a musical and became the most Tony award winning musical in history. I am delighted to have the opportunity to present it. It has just recently become available for community theatre. So it really was a great honor when the Arlington Players asked me to direct this for them.

Mike: This is something that we have struggled with lately with some of the shows we have seen. You have a super popular show on Broadway and a movie version of it and the original version. So many people have seen the show. How do you make the show your own, versus doing everything that has already been done before?

Prod3Chris: I think that is a really good question. With Mel Brooks you are asked to do a style, a certain vaudevillian style that comes from the Borscht Belt and you are kind of tied to the script which is very strong to do that. You have to cast appropriately. You have to put your scenes together in this kind of way with the physical comedy. The script itself demands certain things physically to be on stage in order to present the show. So it is a real challenge technically as well as dramatically and the thing is you certainly do not want to create something that’s already existed, you want to kind of put your mark on it.

One of the challenges, too is that with the new musical the scores are written in such a way and the scene are presented in such a way that makes it very difficult technically to create. There aren’t vamps in the music to allow for quick scene changes. There is a real challenge in presenting this style of the show in a style that is original. One of the things I wanted to emphasize on this one which I think differs from some of the interpretations that I’ve seen is, I wanted to soften the romance angle on it or the friendship angle so that there was a little bit more tenderness underneath. Specifically with Ulla and Leo on stage. I really wanted to emphasize the friendship between Max and Leo as it grows through the show so that by the time you get to the ballad in the second act called ‘Til Him there is real tenderness that you feel for the relationship that you you’ve seen grow on stage.

But again one of the things I think you have to be very careful with, people who come to see Mel Brooks want to see Mel Brooks. They want o see that kind of comedy and that’s what they want o have a good laugh with. So you really do need to do it in the style of and I hope we have done that. We have certainly had a great time doing that.

Mike: I’m assuming most if not everyone has seen a version of this before. Was it hard to get the actors and even the designers to do things a little differently to make it their own.

Chris: I think one of the things that was really important when we cast the show and had the first meeting back in January I told everyone that if they wanted to look at the original movie fine if you do not know ht you have gotten into, but after that put it away and do not look at it. But then watch as much of Mel Brook’s movies other than The Producers to get a sense of the style. The cast was really very eager to really try to capture some of the screwball and the physical comedy that is required. I think we did a little tutorial on Mel Brooks.

Mike: That’s an interesting way to do that. Study the director not the show. That’s kind of interesting.

Chris: Yeah. If you look at Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, you can look at any of those things to get a sense of where we are going to go with my direction in staging of the piece. This cast was very very smart and very gifted. They were very funny. They really gave us their all. I was really very lucky to work with the artist I have.

Mike: The set was I don’t want to say incredible, but it was really really good because there was so much going on with the way they rotated so that the back of one was the front of another. That was very creative how it seemed that you had enough people to get everything rotated and in place and it didn’t bog the show down.

Prod4Chris: I really appreciate you saying that because that was one of our biggest worries. You have these scene that demand such physical comedy with doors and doors slamming and people running around and accessing cabinets and taking things out. The technical aspect of the show, the set dressing and set painting. An office going completely white. These are very technically demanding things to do.

One of the things that we wanted to do was to honor that style that Mel Books built into the show and also kind of create and make it our own. Knowing full well that we do not have hydraulics or tracks on stage that are automated and that it was going to take a man powered team to keep the pace of the piece going on. So it really means a lot and I know that the tech staff as well as the designers would really appreciate hearing that because it really was deliberate. Lots of discussion, deliberate decision ho we were going to try to make this our own and do it within the style yet not lose pace for the piece.

Mike: The white scene right after the intermission, the white set. Did you have two sets for that or did you have a covering of some sort?

Chris: The set that you saw, the reverse side of the set was white. The back side of it. You had two doors. You had everything in that set that you saw for the office, it’s back side was the white set. So it just turns around at intermission and you have a white set.

Mike: That’s great. I couldn’t tell that. Because I was really wondering how that works.

The costumes I thought were very bright and very colorful and fit really well. Especially for Springtime For Hitler.

Chris: Barbara Esquibel, our costume designer, really got a good sense and a good feel for the piece. And again one of the things that is very powerful about this is the make up and hair as well as the costumes that allow the chorus who plays many many parts to keep coming out. It looks like a cast of thousands, but they are doing quick costume changes. She did a really smash up job.

Mike: What was the hardest part of the show itself? Was there a scene that just took a while to really come together?

Chris: Well, I think one of the things is that you have the show within the show which is a classic musical theater form and comedy where you see this in Gypsy and in so many other productions where you have the real life taking place on stage and then you have a production number in the show. So to get that sense of drama you need to have someone who really understands the musical theater concept. I think John Monnett and the choreography and JM d’Haviland with the music and being able to bring in that spring time and pop it as a musical theatre production in the midst of the show and then being able to go back to a very musical theater set and scene work back to the real story was not only challenging, but I think they did a smash up job.

John’s choreography just sings on stage and it is one of those things that you like to see in a good musical comedy where the tech, the set, the costumes, the music, the dance all come together. We spent a lot of time working on that. Of curse you can always say that the little old lady with the walker is not physically with us to be tough on the actors to master it. It was done from the very beginning early on to make sure we were doing it justice to make the finale in Act 1.

Mike: Do you have a favorite number in the show?

Prod2Chris: Favorite number. Actually mine tends to be the softer numbers. The ballads. I love ‘Til Him at the end because for one I think it winds up the whole story. In the midst of all the comedy and the laughter and it being ribald, and a little naughty at times, there is a tenderness that I really like in that number.

Mike: Talk about the show being a little naughty at times. Is that is something for one, part of it that is community theater so you have to worry about offending your audience. And two, the show is going on forty or fifty years old, is it something that is not as bawdy as it used to be?

Chris: I think that is true. But I also think that in the musical Mel Brooks really pushed it a little bit more than 40 years ago. It’s naughty and it’s fast. He tries to offend everyone. Yet at the same time by offending everybody in some way he is offending no one. It is not racy in the sense of a Mamet play, it plays stereotypes, but not caricatures. As such people can get a little uncomfortble at times. At other times they will sit back and just have a good guffaw and keep moving with the piece. I think it is really important that the audience understands that it is Mel Brooks and his style. If you know that then you’ll know what you are getting into.

Mike: The night I saw it, there was a blackout on stage in the middle of a scene. What happened with that? Did you blow a fuse?

Chris: The lighting board froze. Which meant that no cues could go on and they had to reboot it and that takes a couple minutes. So man, it was heart attacks all across on stage backstage throughout the entire theater. What was great about the audience that was there that night was you could feel them rooting for everyone and not wanting to let anything be given up. They were so kind to that technical glitch. It was very strange to see the actors say “Ok we’re going to hold.” And then keep plowing through and then eventually as the board came up the lights covered the stage little by little by little and then we were back. Back in the saddle so to speak. It was really one of those live theater moments that you go “Well, there’s nothin’ we can do about this.” Except keep plowing through it and moving on.

Mike: Did you have any issues with all the snow in February? How did that affect the rehearsal process?

Prod1Chris: We were supposed to start rehearsal during that first week. When you are doing a musical especially musical with a lot of choral singing and a lot of dance that needs to be taught, losing a week is horrible. If we were going to lose it, losing it at the beginning was probably best. Because it is not like you just taught something and you go backwards. We lost our first week, but we had to double up rehearsals to get things to come together on time. And it was hard because it is volunteers and people have conflicts and life outside of the theater. So everybody works quite hard to make up for that time. From the choreographer and the music director. From John and JM and the cast. The cast was really committed. Eventually the fears of not having that initial week went away, but February was kind of stressed.

Mike: So what have you learned? What would you do differently about doing a musical or what would you do differently if you did The Producers again ?

Chris: One of the things for me, I had not done a musical comedy in quite a few years. My last two shows I had done was Ragtime and Follies. So I was dealing with heavy musicals. To me it was such a delight to be able to be back in the musical comedy and in that genre. It lifts your heart especially in the Spring. and it is ironic to do Springtime for Hitler when it is Springtime outside.

What I would do differently… This one went together from all angles. From the actors, from the tech angle quite well. It was a really good collaborative effort. I think what I would take away from this is that it really does demand you do quality work. A lot of partnership and collaboration. I doing that early enough in the game. We did that, but I think I would start it even earlier because people can be very creative of feeding ideas off of each other. That is always delight to do. To work before ahead of time before the rehearsal or the building of the set. I would spend more time with it I guess.

Mike: So give us the dates of the run and how people can get tickets.

Chris: We are going through the 24th of April. Friday and Saturdays at 8 PM and a matinee on Sunday at 2:30. Our final performance is Friday April 23rd and Saturday April 24th. We have another couple weekends and I encourage everyone to come out and see it. If you want a good laugh you’ll have a fun time with it.

Mike: OK, well thank you very much for talking about The Producers.

Chris: Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate it.

Cast

  • The Usherettes: Reeny Eul, Claire O’Brien
  • Max Bialystock: Ian Grossman
  • Leo Bloom: David Lick
  • Hold me-Touch Me: Judy Lewis
  • Mr. Marks: David M. Moretti
  • Franz Liebkind: Jack B. Stein
  • Carmen Ghia: Steve Block
  • Roger DeBris: Chuck Dhuly
  • Bryan: David M. Moretti
  • Kevin: Todd Paul
  • Scott:: Mark Hidalgo
  • Shirley: Lesleyanne Koch Kessler
  • Ulla: Anne Marie Pinto
  • Lick Me-Bite Me: Claire O’Brien
  • Kiss Me-Feel Me: Lesleyanne Koch Kessler
  • Jack Lepidus: David m. Moretti
  • Donald Dinsmore: Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg
  • Jason Green: Todd Paul
  • Lead Stormtrooper: Mark Hidalgo
  • Sergeant: Todd Paul
  • O’Rourke: James Villarrubia
  • O’Reilly: Ric M. Herrera
  • O’Houlihan: Patrick M. Doneghy
  • Bailiffs: Patrick M. Doneghy, James Villarrubia
  • Judge: David M. Moretti
  • The Ensemble: Kristi Bledsoe, Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Gina Cocchiaro-Tomkus, Patrick M. Doneghy, Reeny Eul, Ric M. Herrera, Mark Hidalgo, Lesleyanne Koch Kessler, Lory Levitt, Judy Lewis, Marla McClure, David M. Moretti, Claire O’Brien, Catherine Oh, Todd Paul, Maureen Reed, Meghan Schulz, James Villarrubia, Erica Wisniewski

Production Team

  • Producer: Nikki Hoffpauir
  • Director: Christopher Dykton
  • Music Director: John- Michael d’Haviland
  • Choreographer: John Monnett
  • Stage Manager: Terri Carnahan
  • Conductor: Leah Kocsis
  • Set Design: Jared Davis
  • Master Carpenters: Peter Finkel & Bill Wisniewski
  • Scenery & Prop Painting: Jared Davis
  • Set Dressing & Properties Design: Kristin Visaggio
  • Pigeon Puppet Master: Scott Drew
  • Storm Trooper Puppets: Nikki Hoffpauir, Sherryl Hoffpauir
  • Lighting Design: Hal Crawford
  • Sound Design: Keith Bell
  • Costume Design: Barbara Esquibel
  • Make Up Design: Xandra Weaver
  • Hair Design: Serge Notkid
  • Fly Rail Chief: Bill Rippey
  • Assistant Producer: Lauren Sinsheimer
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Karinn Cologne, Meghann Courter, Dina Green
  • Associate Sound Design: David Correia
  • Senior Carpenter: William Kolodrubetz
  • Set Construction Crew: Amanda Acker, Rick Albani, Michael deBlois, Hank Drahos, Richard Garey, Cayetano Ordonnez, pete Silva, Adrian Steel, Bob Timmerman
  • Charge Painters: Chinyere Abosi, Amanda Acker, Karinn Cologne, Jared Joyce, Joyce Gillogly, Nikki Hoffpauir, Sandy Hoffpauir, Sherryl Hoffpauir, Russell Kopp, Sandy kozel, Katie Lewis, Rob Lindsey, Kate Roehr, Marisha Sherry, Lauren Sinsheimer, Helen Sobola, Kristin Visaggio
  • Costume Construction: Jacquuin Pierce Allen, Kevin Lane, Ellie Lockwood, Irene Molnar,
  • Wardrobe: Cody Boehm, McKenna Kelly, Ellie Lockwood
  • Make Up Crew: Jessica Bates, Beach Lagassa
  • Hair Crew: Andre Crews
  • Sound Crew: David Correia, Kevin DeMine, Chris Kagy, Brian Vargas
  • Properties Crew: Ashley Johnson, Lindsey Hays
  • Stage Crew: Jeremy Austin, Jennifer Brenenbaum, Jim Callery, Billy Cover, Devin Dashbach, Ryan Desmond, Scott Drew, Julia Fu, David Gonzalez, Nolan Hughes, Robert King, Madison Lane, Katie Lewis, Jonathan Mittaz, Patrick Pho, Adrian Steel, Steven Yates
  • Light Board Operator: Joni Hughes
  • Light Crew: Gary Hauptman, Rod Wallace
  • Follow Spot Operators: Amanda Acker, Dagny Bates, Elita Jenks
  • Fly Crew: Mike Pakonen, Bob Timmerman
  • Auditions: Michael Bruno, Karinn Cologne, Scott Drew, Dina Green, Lesleyanne Kessler, john Segota, Jennifer Strand, Kristin Visaggio, Lee Zahnow
  • Photography: Michael deBlois
  • Program: john Monnett, Dave Moretti
  • Logo Design: Katja Yount
  • Box Office: Chinyere Abosi, Barry Altman, Karinn Cologne, Bill Parker
  • Opening Night Party: Barbara Esquibel, Anne Marie Pinto

Orchestra

  • Conductor: Leah Kocsis
  • Violin: Michele Jacobs, Marcia MacInyre, Devon Nicoll
  • Cello: Virginia Gardner
  • Reeds: Randy Dahlberg, Dana Gardner, Gwyn Jones, Blake Rose, Mila Weiss
  • Trumpet: David Flickinger, Russell Monahan, Curt Nette, Paul Weiss
  • Trombone: Eric Lindberg, Harold Rhoades, Steven Ward, Darrell Wyrick
  • French Horn: Deb Kline
  • Keyboard: John-Michael d’Haviland
  • Bass: Adam Neely
  • Drums: Jim Hogmann
  • Percussion: Bob Weber

Disclaimer: The Arlington Players provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this interview.

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This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4893.

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

3 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the interview with Chris. He and the entire cast, crew and orchestra have done a wonderful job with this show.

    Incidentally, the song referred to above is entitled ” ‘Til Him” not “Tell Him”

  2. I’ve fixed the typo on the song name. Break a leg the last weekend.

  3. I saw this production over the weekend. Wow! I can’t believe it was all volunteer and I only paid $20 to get in. What a bargain. Really it was as good – even better – than some professional theater I’ve seen. Everyone should go see it. The production values are exceptional – the set and costumes alone would be impressive. But the talent is really amazing – every single one of them is incredible. The acting, singing, and dancing are all spot-on. The comedic timing of the 6 lead characters is as good as the original broadway cast (which I saw multiple times). I have never seen the guy who played Max before, but he easily could have been Nathan Lane’s understudy. Chris and his team hit a grand slam.