Albuquerque Little Theatre's grand finale this season is a production of the The Producers, running through June 16. The Producers is a smash Broadway hit written by comedic icon Mel Brooks, known mostly for his library of groundbreaking films such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The Producers started out as a 1968 film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It became a cult classic. When Brooks decided to transform the story for the stage, he surprised many by writing the songs himself.
Art Tedesco, who plays down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock, insists that he’s a “lifelong die-hard fan” of Mel Brooks. “When the Broadway musical adaptation of one of the seminal film comedies of all time was announced, I have to admit, it was a head-scratcher to me. It was encouraging that Mel Brooks was adapting it as well as writing all the songs.”
Tedesco’s fandom is genuine. “Several of Brooks’ films feature songs that were written by Brooks,” he points out, “and they are always a highlight—who could forget Madeline Kahn singing 'I’m Tired' in Blazing Saddles? The Broadway musical didn’t disappoint."
Tedesco isn’t the only one who’s more than just a little enthusiastic to take on a principal role in a Brooks comedy.
"Being cast in the lead role of Leo Bloom was a terrific surprise!” says actor and ALT Operations Manager Dehron Foster. “The Producers is my 50th stage production, many of them musicals, but I have never had a lead role in a musical until now.” Referring to Tedesco, he adds, “I have the tremendous pleasure of playing an amazing role opposite one of the best actors in Albuquerque. It’s a dream come true."
In his performance, Foster doesn't disappoint, embodying anxiety-ridden accountant Leo Bloom complete with nervous twitches during the character’s crises of conscience and suave confidence during his fantasy sequences.
Similarly, Tedesco's comedic timing lends itself very well to the Brooks script. His delivery of the asides and immediate commitment to the plot’s schemes as they present themselves make it easy for the audience to go along for the ride.
Part of the ride includes fluid and visually interesting transitions between scenes. The set design lends itself to dynamic movement that’s executed by both cast and crew with a professional touch you don't always see in community theater. Director Henry Avery's vision paired with Colby Martin Landers' set design and technical direction keeps the audience waiting to see what will happen during the transitions.
Fans of both musical theater and physical comedy will find something to enjoy in The Producers. The cast of 23 features performers doubling up (or even tripling or quadrupling up) on roles; most people are in every number. Performing in the ensemble, according to the director, is as much work as performing as a principal. Some actors can even be spotted in multiple roles in the same number, like co-choreographer Shirley Roach, who shines as an ensemble member in between playing the character Hold Me Touch Me and donning what seems like a half dozen other costumes. She and her fellow ensemble members offer visual antics that are too good to miss, even while the principals keep the story going.
The cast’s chemistry flows noticeably across the stage. Emily Melville, as blonde bombshell Ulla, can’t keep the sparks to herself. Likewise, Joe Moncada has taken Avery's direction to great heights to create an outrageous Carmen Ghia. Moncada, the production’s co-choreographer and co-costume designer, is also a notable part of the ensemble (watch for him as a stormtrooper). The Producers cast are performers of many hats or, as is frequently the case, wigs.
While ALT considers its performers and volunteers family, not all musicals are family-friendly. Those of you who aren't familiar with Mel Brooks should note that The Producers "proudly proclaims itself an equal opportunity offender." ALT rates the show PG-13. The Producers is a hearty mix of satire, innuendo, social commentary, crass jokes, engaging music and enough visual stimulation to keep you in your seat for both acts. From the dancing spotlights of the overture to the cast's somewhat ungracious musical invitation for the audience to leave at the end, The Producers is a great way for ALT to finish up its 83rd contiguous season.
Next up, ALT will be revisiting Mel Brooks by including a production of Young Frankenstein in the season along with family favorites, other comedies and riveting dramas. ALT is one of the longest-running community theaters in the country, and taking your place in the audience to see The Producers is a great way to not only enjoy yourself but to support Albuquerque's theatrical heritage. They even have an Emmy in the lobby; you'll have to stop by to see why.