Actors played by actors, a director played by the director and the producers played by none other than the producers are all putting on a great show about the worst show ever.
“The Producers,” written by Mel Brooks, is a hilarious, inappropriate Broadway musical comedy that has made its way to the University of Dallas as an After Hours production, thanks to some truly dedicated students.
After Max Bialystock, a washed-up Broadway producer, puts on yet another failed play, an accountant, Leo Bloom, comes to look over the books. Their solution may be the best or the worst one possible: raise millions of dollars for a supposed hit, but put on a cheap and horrible show and keep all of the investments.
“The scheme is to find the worst play ever written, the worst director in town, all of the worst actors in New York, put on the cheapest flop they can find, to try to make $2 million,” Evyan Melendez, director of “The Producers,” said.
The scheming producers, Max and Leo, are played by seniors James McGregor and Simon Lemaire, respectively, who are also the actual producers of the After Hours show.
The two seniors had always been fond of the play and half-jokingly discussed putting it on their junior year after both performed in the musical “Candide.” Then they realized that it could actually happen. So they got started.
“Simon and I love ‘The Producers.’ It was a show we loved long before we met each other and it’s one of the things we bonded over freshman year before class had even started,” McGregor wrote in an email. “So in that way, by choosing to do this show in particular we have found, what I think, is the perfect way to end our theatrical careers here at the University of Dallas.”
At the cast party for “Candide,” they decided they could do another musical; so, wondering if this show was possible, they looked up the rights for “The Producers” right there at the party.
“Constantly chanting ‘we can do it’ under our breaths, we couldn’t be stopped,” Lemaire said.
Lemaire and McGregor then asked Melendez to be their director, as well as to play the worst director in New York, Roger De Bris. Melendez, a senior psychology major with a sharp sense of humor, has been involved with the Drama Department since his freshman year as a sound designer for nearly every mainstage production and some senior studios.
Because it was such a huge Broadway hit, the rights for “The Producers” were not easy to obtain, especially for an After Hours production, which is last on the priority list for budgets and rehearsal schedules.
“[The Drama Department] paid for one performance amongst other things. But we had to put in from our money to pay for the rentals for the scripts and the musical score. And that wasn’t cheap,” Melendez laughed.
Producers raising money to put on a show about the worst show ever, which may end up being the best show ever: confusing, but also familiar.
“It’s just funny because the play has this process of them gathering every single piece for this show, and we went through those exact same steps and had the exact same hiccups,” Melendez said. “One of the lines in the show is ‘never put your own money [in] the show.’ And we broke the cardinal rule of the show.”
With a large cast made up of busy students, many involved in other productions, time and space to properly rehearse was difficult to find.
In overcoming these hurdles, the cast was determined to make this show go beyond the casual, funny readings of typical After Hours plays. Melendez joked that this is his “senior studio,” and in terms of quality, he means it.
The show may lack full costumes and equipment, but Melendez hopes its transparency and tangibility will create a sincere performance.
“By not pretending that we’re more than we are, we would get there,” Melendez said. “By just not having any walls between who we are and the audience, we would get there. And that’s what we’ve been doing – we’ve just been having fun being ourselves portraying the silly characters.”
But being an After Hours has had its perks, too. The show can be as inappropriate and politically incorrect as possible – from jokes about Jews and Germans, to Max being a male escort – which Melendez hopes can “open up the bubble” a little bit. The efforts of all the students involved are for the sake of the play itself, not a class, making it that much more genuine.
“I’m not studying directing. I’m not studying acting,” Melendez said. “I’m just doing it because I love it, and it’s fun. It’s always been a hobby for me, but it’s a vocation for others. And that’s what we just wanted to bring into the room: let’s have fun with it. Because we just don’t have the means – we don’t have the means of Broadway, so we’re just doing the best we can with it.”
Just doing what they can is quite impressive in this case, considering the play is a musical, which adds an entirely different challenge to its performance.
“Musical theatre is hard to come by here, compared to most other universities, so we welcomed the opportunity to bring a show here and have our hand in its production,” McGregor wrote.
The producers, director, cast and ensemble have worked hard to make this a quality show but have kept in mind throughout the process that “The Producers” is a brash comedy, so they have also worked to make humor the true heart of the show.
“It’s making fun of everything in Broadway and outside of it. And that’s what we’re doing – we’re just making fun of ourselves and we’re having fun,” Melendez said. “We’re making a comedy out of a comedy.”
To appreciate the hard work of everyone involved, and, of course, to laugh nonstop, come to the performance of “The Producers,” Saturday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. in Catherine 101.