The national tour of The Producers has its official opening night Sept. 18 following previews that began Sept. 10 at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, kicking off a multi-city run that will eventually settle down in Los Angeles in the spring.
Steel City critics gave the show the courtesy of working out the usual technical kinks in the preview period, although theatregoers were still being charged top dollar for the product. The local resident professional company, Pittsburgh Public Theater, has a weeklong preview period as well, and at least one local critic, Christopher Rawson, used that tradition as a template to address The Producers coverage.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that paid admissions to The Producers there the week ending Sept. 15 put the show at 70 percent of capacity.
Lewis J. Stadlen (45 Seconds From Broadway) and Don Stephenson (By Jeeves) play Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, in the tour of the smash musical, which plays three weeks in Pittsburgh (to Sept. 29) and then hits a city near you: Cleveland (Allen Theatre, Oct. 1-20), Cincinnati (Aronoff Theatre, Oct. 22–Nov. 10), Minneapolis (Orpheum Theatre, Nov. 12–Dec. 8), St. Louis (Fox Theatre, Dec. 10-29), San Diego (Civic Theatre, Jan. 1-12, 2003), Tempe (Gammage Auditorium, Jan. 14–Feb. 2, 2003), Seattle (The Paramount. Feb. 5–16, 2003), Portland (Civic Theatre, Feb. 18–March 2, 2003), San Francisco (Orpheum Theatre, March 4–April 27, 2003). Rehearsals began in late July, with teching happening in Newark. Stadlen told Playbill On-Line some slight lyric and book tweaks have been made (by co-librettist, lyricist and composer Mel Brooks), as well as some changes by director Susan Stroman, but audiences should expect a brassy approximation of the 12-time Tony Award-winning original. The cast size is the same as the original.
Stadlen also said that although Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick originated the roles of Max and Leo (some say indelibly), Stroman and Brooks encouraged Stadlen and Stephenson to experiment and make the parts their own. The main concern of Brooks and Stroman, Stadlen said, was that the leads have the show's high-spirited comic style down pat. As long as the style was preserved, the actors were freed to explore the parts and add some of their own goofy choices, which are expected to ripen when the troupe gets before a full audience.
The 55-year-old Stadlen (a pal of Nathan Lane's who is now stepping into a role created on Broadway by Lane) was most recently seen on Broadway in Neil Simon's 45 Seconds From Broadway. His other Broadway credits include The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (for which he was Tony-nommed) with Nathan Lane, Laughter on the 23rd Floor (with Lane) and Hal Prince's 1973-74 staging of Candide (another Tony nom). He toured in the Jerry Zaks-directed staging of Guys and Dolls (as Nathan Detroit, which Nathan Lane also created for that Broadway production).
His film credits include "The Verdict," "Serpico," "In & Out" and "To Be Or Not To Be" with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.
Stephenson's Broadway credits include Private Lives, By Jeeves, Parade and Titanic. Off Broadway, he was seen in Bus Stop, The Tavern and Chess.
The company also includes Fred Applegate (Franz Liebkind), Jeff Hyslop (Carmen Ghia), original 42nd Street alum Lee Roy Reams (Roger De Bris) and Broadway Producers veteran Angie Schworer (Ulla). Conductor and musical director is Don York. The ensemble includes Melanie Allen, Alan Bennett, Pam Bradley, Jennifer Paige Chambers, Jennifer Clippinger, Jennifer Lee Crowl, Meg Gillentine, Michael Goddard, Daniel Herron, Nancy Johnston, Kimberly Jones, Michael Kostroff, Jillana Laufer, Robin Lewis, Kevin Ligon, Melissa Rae Mahon, Greg Reuter, Jessica Sheridan, Jerald Vincent, Patrick Wetzel and Kent Zimmerman.
Stadlen and Stephenson are on tour through the San Francisco engagement (to April 27, 2003). When the show lands in Los Angeles in May, Jason Alexander and Martin Short will play Max and Leo, with the thought that Stadlen and Stephenson may leap-frog to the second national tour or perhaps Broadway, though there has been no official announcement. A separate Toronto company is expected in 2003.
Alice T. Carter, critic for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, wrote in a column that tickets during the previews Sept. 10-17 were not being sold at a lower price, but that the paper would honor the request.
The Producers is drawn from Mel Brooks' 1968 comic film about a pair of producers who raise money for a sure-fire flop and plan to pocket the extra when their musical fails. The musical, Springtime for Hitler, becomes a smash, of course and they are busted. Brooks penned the book with Thomas Meehan, and wrote music and lyrics for the show. Stroman directs and choreographs.
The musical won an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards in 2001.
For ticket information about the Pittsburgh run at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, call (416) 456 6666 or visit www.pgharts.org.