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Unsuspecting smash hit: Welcome to “The Producers” and the zany world of Mel Brooks

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Welcome to “The Producers” and the zany world of Mel Brooks.

The very first film Brooks directed was the comedy “The Producers” in 1968. He won an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Thirty-three years later he took “The Producers” to the Broadway stage as a musical comedy. He wrote the music and the lyrics for it. The show took 12 Tony Awards.

Albuquerque Little Theatre is staging a production of the “The Producers,” which opens tonight for a four-weekend run.

‘The Producers’
Story by David Steinberg For the Journal

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WHEN: 8 tonight and Saturday, May 25 and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 26. Repeats May 31-June 2, June 7-9 and June 14-16. Special Thursday, June 6 performance at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW

HOW MUCH: $24 general admission, $21 seniors, $18 students. Tickets available at the ALT box office, by calling 242-4750, ext. 2 or by visiting Call for group discounts.

ADVISORY: Adult language

“The physical comedy is completely outrageous,” said Dehron Foster, who portrays Leo Bloom.

“This is probably the most demanding role I’ve had in terms of physical comedy, but I just eat it up. It’s my favorite thing to do.”

Foster has seen the film version and various stage productions many times but this is the first time he’s acting in it. The role is a special opportunity for him. It’s the 50th stage show Foster will have done.

Bloom, an accountant, is the partner of Max Bialystock, who is trying to raise money from unsuspecting little old ladies for a Broadway flop.

Bialystock’s new scheme is this: Find the script of the worst play ever written. Hire the worst director. And raise more money than is needed to cover productions costs. Then abscond to Brazil with the surplus.

But an unplanned development occurs. The show, “Springtime for Hitler,” is a hit.

“Leo is a sweet-natured innocent with a nervous tic and he’s kind of afraid of his own shadow. … He is very reluctant to go along with Max and his ideas. He’s absolutely terrified of doing anything wrong. He’s a Dudley Do-Right kind of guy,” Foster said.

“Leo has a daydream of what it’s like to be a Broadway producer. Right or wrong, he’s got to follow his dream, even if it means doing something dishonest.”

Art Tedesco, who plays Max, compares Max’s sleaze to the sleaze oozing from the character of Franklin Hart, whom he portrayed in an ALT production of “9 to 5.”

“Franklin Hart seems to use people for his own gain and in a despicable manner. He’s clawed his way to the top. Max Bialystock is using people, but he’s very transparent in his motivation. He’s just trying to get by, show by show.”

Tedesco said he and Foster have developed good chemistry in rehearsals. And their energy levels are well-matched, added ALT director Henry Avery.

“I love the story of the two characters. It’s one of the great male-bonding stories. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is,” Tedesco said.

In the 2001 Broadway show, Nathan Lane was Max and Matthew Broderick was Leo. They reprised their parts in the 2005 film.

The original film version starred Zero Mostel as Max, and Gene Wilder as Leo.

Into Max and Leo’s office comes Ulla, a Swedish bombshell, looking for work. Emily Melville portrays Ulla in the ALT production.

“She has such incredible self-confidence. She comes into the Bialystock-and-Bloom office and will do whatever it takes to get a job. They hired her as their secretary and then put her in their planned flop of a show,” Melville said.

“It’s fun working with Art and Darren. We’re a very campy trio.”

Ulla’s costumes are on the wild side. For instance in the first scene, Melville’s Ulla wears a white trench coat over a revealing solid-white, short, tight dress.

“It’s a knock-out outfit,” she said.

Later, when they return from Rio de Janeiro, Ulla has on a “tight-fitting Carmen Miranda dress that’s white with a variety of brightly colored rosettes and with ruffles around the knees.”

Melville said her mother, Toni Turpen, made most of her outfits.

“My mom is a seamstress and she has helped with almost every show I’ve ever done, including ‘Hairspray’ and ‘White Christmas,'” she said.

“My dad, Kit Turpen, got me into theater when I was 5. About every other year we get to do a show together with Mom helping backstage.”

Avery said he had directed a production of “The Producers” at a Baton Rouge, La., community theater about five years ago.

“I went back there and did it. They made a big deal out of the fact that it was my 10th year of being away. I wanted to do it here,” he said.

In auditions, Avery said, more men came out for the part of Max than for the role of Leo.

“But Darren was really the best (for Leo). Since we’ve been in rehearsals, I’m thrilled what he’s doing with it. He’s got the character. He’s made it his own … And he’s the rock for everybody in rehearsals,” Avery said.

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