The Producers: A Journey to the Stage
By Richard Schultz - Dec. 18, 2014
When the Scottsdale Musical Theater Company (SMTC) presents The Producers, the lavish Broadway musical will feature backdrops from Network Theatricals in New York, a touring set from southern California and costumes from the Palace Theatre in New Hampshire.
Executive producer and director David Hock leads a team presenting the company’s largest production to date, including accompaniment by a live orchestra of 23 musicians, a true rarity for locally produced musicals.
Based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, The Producers follows Max Bialystock, a once-great Broadway producer, and Bloom, his accountant, as they attempt to produce the biggest flop possible: Springtime for Hitler.
Their masterpiece turns out to be a smash, ruining all the plans they had for their success with a failure. The two are then sent off to Sing-Sing, where they produce Prisoners of Love, another smash flop and Bialystock and Bloom remarkably land on top.
Three local gay actors lead the cast of 32 in a production of The Producers, opening with a performance and gala on New Year’s Eve at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Hector Coris as Max Bialystock is joined by Terry Gadaire as Roger DeBris and Patrick Russo as Franz Liebkind.
Coris garnered praised for his roles in previous SMTC productions Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Music Man. Gadaire recently performed in Phoenix Theatre’s Memphis and portrayed Prof. Henry Higgins in Phoenix Symphony’s concert version of My Fair Lady.
When asked why he chose The Producers, Hock remarked, “Mel Brooks is just outright funny. He gets away with jokes like no one else and we all laugh right along with him. This is a blockbuster musical with splashy production numbers, large casts, tap dancing and showgirls in gooey gowns.”
Echo asked Hock to share his insight about the process of bringing this beloved musical to the stage.
Echo: What was the greatest challenge in casting the show?
Hock: I already had cast Hector Coris as Max and Matt Newhard as Leo, but I really had no clue where the rest of my leads were coming from. The biggest challenge was finding performers who could match the level of Hector and Matt; that’s not an easy task.
Echo: Where there any surprises in auditions?
Hock: Absolutely! Surprises and thrills! Terry Gadaire coming out to audition for Roger Debris was much unexpected. I hadn’t met him, but had heard about him. Terry’s experience and talent certainly raises the bar. Then, I cast Marina Blue Jarrette as Ulla. She was the biggest talent surprise by far. She’s getting ready to graduate from Arizona State University, but she could easily be on Broadway right now. Her voice will knock the audience’s socks off.
Echo: What was the toughest role to cast?
Hock: The ideal Franz Liebkind just didn’t walk through the door. In the end, it made me think outside the box and be creative with how I viewed the character. Patrick Russo came to audition for the ensemble. His dance talent is incredible, but he’s older and fits Franz. Patrick has a great quality and I saw a perfect opportunity to make the character something other than how Will Farrell played it in the movie version. This is the strongest cast I’ve had to date.
Echo: How does the production team work together?
Hock: We’ll have only three production meetings. I rely on my team to communicate with each other as often needed. I’m very hands off and trust my team. They have the freedom to show their creativity. Being the producer keeps me involved because of budgets, but the final product and how it looks and feels is all the result of the talents of the production team.
Echo: Tell us about the rehearsal process.
Hock: We rehearse twice during the week and then Saturday and Sunday. Music rehearsals are first. It’s really hard to block a song if the actor doesn’t know how it goes. My blocking rehearsals are very New York-ish. I table block which means the actors write down their blocking at the first rehearsal. They don’t necessarily practice the scene. Many times the first time a scene is rehearsed with blocking and dialog together is as a work through.
Echo: How do you deal with actors being memorized and off book?
Hock: The cast is off book Dec. 14. We have an all-day work through the day before to assist everyone in finding continuity from scene to scene. I love getting to the point of the show being off book when I can really see what works in a scene and what doesn’t. At this point, the actors finally can start playing and experimenting without the books in their hands. That’s when the show really starts to come together.
Echo: How do you prepare the actors for the rigors of technical rehearsals?
Hock: For the first tech rehearsal, the cast will be “on call” inside the theater. They will be getting organized in the dressing rooms, working with the sound designer in terms of microphones, and wait to be called on stage. The cast will have had several full run-throughs at the rehearsal studio including at least one in costumes. I have a great stage manager whose job it will be to keep the cast focused on the tech night and be ready at a moment’s notice.