Friday, Nov. 13, 2009

The Producers in 3-D

Carte Blanche's Latest Musical

By Russ Bickerstaff
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A four-piece band joins some 30 people and half a dozen pigeon puppets for an enjoyable evening of musical comedy as Carte Blanche Studios presents Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s The Producers. Carte Blanche’s Jimmy Dragolovich packs the tiny studio theatre with a parade of elaborate sets and costumes for a very, very ambitious production. The costumes, designed by the team of Kate Vannoy, Michael Keiley and Katrina Greguska are all quite impressive. Designer Tom Sorce has done a great deal with the size and budget constraints common to a studio theatre production, but the staggering wardrobe does a remarkable job of setting mood and atmosphere for the production. Aside from some nagging problems with the main curtain opening night, the show ran with remarkable efficiency. That being said, there was a considerable amount of time between scenes, contributing to a rather long performance. It says a lot that the show ran considerably longer than a well-oiled production of the musical and I wasn’t all that annoyed by the time lag. It’s a very rare and very entertaining production that can work that kind of magic with three hours or more. Carte Blanche’s The Producers pulled it off.

A lot of the entertainment value of the show lies in Dragolovich’s success in cramming 30 people onstage with a four piece band in an elevated platform and making it feel as big as a touring Broadway show without all that empty space. Sit in the front row and it’s like Broadway in 3-D Imax with a little something more. Sitting in the front row opening night, I found myself on the receiving end of a Michael Traynor spit take. I’d seen enough live spit takes that it didn’t seem all that weird getting hit with the mist just this once. And Traynor did such a marvelous job otherwise that it didn’t seem at all insulting.

Michael Traynor, who also appeared as the emcee in Carte Blanche’s recent production of Cabaret plays troubled Broadway producer Max Bialystock. Once the king of Broadway, Bialystock is far from the successful end of his career. Traynor is far too young and far too thin to be playing a traditional version of the character. The original film version had Zero Mostel in the role. The Skylight Opera Theatre had the beloved Bill Theisen in the role. Both are big guys. Traynor’s appearance in the role was cleverly crafted. In a space that small, aging make-up effects aren’t going to be that effective, so the production hasn’t bothered. We see a relatively young Traynor with comically exaggerated thinning hair and a kind of desperate vitality that is stylishly moistened by flopsweat. The desperation in the role is a lot of fun to watch—the comedy in Traynor’s role coming from a very real understanding of the emotions behind the character’s actions. It’s a very cool performance that holds down the center of the show quite well.
 
Jordan Gwiazdowski
is appropriately awkward in the role of the accountant nebbish Leo Bloom who ends up going into business with Bialystock in the attempt to make money on a deliberate flop. Gwiazdowski’s at his best in the show when delivering the physical comedy. Amber Smith looks cute in a blonde wig in the role of  their secretary and love interest Ulla, but the role doesn’t give her much room to perform—a situation shared by many of the people in the 30-person ensemble. Indeed, this is true of any cast this size—there simply isn’t room enough for everyone to deliver on their potential and talent ends up getting squandered, but here it’s all the more apparent, as those thirty people are all quite close to any member of the audience. It’s fun to see Samantha Paige dance her own choreography for the show. There are a number of Carte Blanche regulars who shoot in and out of the center of the stage including Clayton Hamburg, Adam Zastrow, Katrina Greguska and a host of others. With a great deal of talent packing the tiny stage, it’s a fun show even if the experience on the whole is a bit uneven.


Carte Blanche’s production of the Producers runs now through November 22nd at Carte Blanche Studios on 1024 South 5th Street.

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