Friday, July 28, 2017

Memo from the RTC: Producers Produce Laughs (Lots)

Published in The Wave, July 28, 2017

Memo from the RTC: Producers Produce Laughs (Lots)
By Norm Scott

Don’t say I didn’t warn you over the past few weeks that getting into see the Rockaway Theatre Company production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers would not be easy unless you reserved early. On opening night someone who attends most of the shows said this may be the best cast ever. A reviewer from a Brooklyn newspaper said, “You will never top this.” And people who won’t get to see it will roll their eyes when I maintain that I liked our cast and production better than the Broadway version with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.

There are still two more weekends to run including a special July 27 Thursday night performance, which for the first time in RTC history is sold out. So I’m not going to tell you about the awesome performances at the sold out opening weekend. I’ll let you see for yourself – if you are lucky enough to have a ticket.

I’m not going to rave about first time RTCers Jeremy Plyburn and Craig Evans, playing the leads with perfect timing that deliver a laugh a minute.

Jeremy is a quadruple threat. With a big voice that could reach the back walls of even the largest theater, he also adds singing, dancing and acting in addition to being a comedian - you can tell that Jeremy has worked in comedy clubs. A big man to start with (he is thinner than you think since they added a fat suit to his costume), he plays Max Bialystock “Big” in all ways. His "standing ovation" line brings down the house.
Carmen, Roger, Max, Leo watch in horror as Atsushi Eda does a split

Craig as accountant Leo Bloom (he is also an accountant in real life) clearly comes from a professional acting, singing and dancing background in his earlier life. “His facial expressions are extraordinary,” a friend of mine said. Watch his body language – that of a extremely repressed character verging of being on the spectrum. Watch especially his stiff initial interactions with Ulla. Watch him dance with the chorus girls in the dream sequence, some of whom verge on professional dancers. Watch him interact with his blue blanket and think of Gene Wilder in the movie.

Last year we met two newcomers to the RTC, Erech Holder-Hetmeyer (La Cage) and Brian Sadowski (Follies and La Cage). Both also appeared in A Chorus Line this past spring. In The Producers they team up as the gay couple, Roger Debris, and his assistant, Carmen Gia. I’m not sure how to even describe the goings on in their scenes other than to say they are knock down wild and funny. Erech is a young man who graduated from Edward Murrow high school in Brooklyn five years ago. I know they have a strong theater program. Did he learn how to act, sing and dance so well there? I think it is innate talent. Erech in real life is learning to be an electrician. Brian, who impresses every minute he is on stage in every production, has been a teacher and is now an assistant principal at an elementary school in Brooklyn. Brian will be in the Frank Caiati directed “The Elephant Man” in September.

It says a lot about Director John Gilleece and Producer Susan Jasper and the RTC as an organization that they were willing to cast Max and Leo with newcomers to the RTC, in addition to giving two other key parts (Roger and Carmen) to relative newcomers. That they were willing to pass by some experienced RTCers who auditioned. That the RTC is an open organization that incorporates talent from anywhere. So much talent that when you see even the minor roles in the over 40-member cast you are seeing actors, dancers and singers who have played leads in past productions taking on tiny roles just to be part of the show. (More about them next week).
Franz gives Max and Leo the oath

For the other two key roles, Gilleece went back to the tried and true.

I don’t have to tell regular RTC audience members about the talents of John Panepinto as Hitler (and pigeon) lover Franz Liebkind. This is John’s 14th performance on the RTC stage and whenever he is on the stage he practically brings down the house. I first met John when he starred in How to Succeed in Business… and he can carry an entire show or play featured parts to perfection. Whenever he came on, I ran from the dressing room to the back of the theater to watch him and his pigeons. His comparison of Churchill’s paintings with Hitler’s ability to paint an entire apartment in one afternoon – two coats – gets some of the biggest laughs in the show.

I’m definitely not going to tell you about our local superstar Catherine Leib’s performance as Ulla. I mean how many times can I rave about her beauty, brains and talents? “Why aren’t you on Broadway,” said more than one theater goer to her last weekend? We missed her for a few years when she was on tour but she came back with a vengeance last fall in Toxic Avenger and this spring in A Chorus Line. Her audition dance has every male in the audience (and some females) join Bialystock and Bloom in having their tongues handing out. If you can take your eyes off Ulla, make sure to notice how the guys are reacting. As someone who has gawked in awe at Catherine Leib for a decade, how do I react as the judge when Catherine sidles up to me and starts flirting? If I tell you I’ll have to kill you.

When Norm is not gawking at beautiful women, he blogs at

Steven Wagner, Andy Guzman, James Dalid, Myles Rich prep for their parts (photo by Adele Wendt)

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