Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for ‘The Producers'

Theatre Sarnia: The Producers

Solid Realization of a Daring Satire

May 13, 2018

by Brian Hay

It’s worth mentioning that ‘The Producers’ was daring beyond most imagining when Mel Brooks first wrote it. That was back in 1967 but he idea reportedly began its gestation as early as 1962 when the realities of the Nazi regime were still very close to many people. Given its nature, that was probably one of the prime reasons for pushing the idea forward. More on that later.

A few areas stand above and beyond in this production. The imagination that went into developing the wardrobe is staggering. That’s particularly notable as the “play within the play” unfolds during the second act. Lisa Bicum and her team, Kelly Alexander, Willi Beckers Locke, Lynn Cogswell, Emily Johnson, Irene Judson, Sherwin Maliakal, Carol Ransley and Jan Seabrook did great work breathing life into the complexity and bizarre nature of the concepts.

Music Director Frank Brennan did an exceptional job of melding the contributions of Caitlin Mason, Marcia Case, Andy Lloyd, Cy Giacomin, Ralph DeLuca, Tessa Catton, Tony DeLuca, Blake Stevenson, Ken Foster, Rick McGregor, Tim Hummel, Christine Schofield, Bill Nelson, Jason Jamieson, Bob Parner and Joe Moscheck into a single unit. They played with the intuitive fluidity that stems from feeling a score as opposed to just reading it.

Choreographer Tia Colborne developed many complex routines that could easily have gone astray but for the cues set in place by Stage Manager Bethany Tiegs and her assistants, Tara Brennan and Kathryn Forristal. Keeping the proceedings flowing smoothly with the amount of scenery changes and the movement from the sizeable ensemble was no small feat.

The cast was excellent. Dave Evans gave a yeoman’s performance as the shady, but not heartless, ‘Max Bialystock’. His singing was also among the outstanding areas in the production. Just behind him came the work of Jonathan Lawrence as the spineless dreamer ‘Leo Bloom’. His delivery was good and he excelled at keeping his movements “in character” during the choreographed routines that he was part of. Adam Forristal was hilarious as the Aryan-oriented playwright, ‘Franz Liebkind’ and his singing was very good as well.

Rosalie Deschenes-Lebel crafted a side-splitting portrayal of the Secretary/Dancer (and Swedish Sex-Bomb), ‘Ulla’. Her singing, dancing and comic timing were impeccable. Mark Bandura put going over the top too great effect as the effeminate ‘Carmen Ghia’ and Shawn Chapman was brilliantly outrageous as the pompous, neurotic (and also effeminate) Director, ‘Roger De Bris’. Their shared scenes were amazing and Chapman’s dance sequence during the “inner play” was both magnificently outrageous and politically incorrect to a degree that was nothing less than spectacular.

Trevor Morris virtually owned the stage during the sequence that introduced the “inner play” to the landscape. But for the excellence of the costuming, set design and lighting that kept eyes directed to the action everything around him might have been rendered all but invisible. As things stood his jaw-dropping delivery as the Emcee was the property that balanced the spectacle with the human element that sent the audience into peals of laughter. The ensemble players around them — too many to list — were great.

The lighting done by Catherine Souliere along with the follow-spots operated by Katie Johnston and Luc Lacroix kept eyes focused the action very effectively. The sound operation done by Kathryn Forristal and Bethany Tiegs was strong as well. There were a few instances where microphones didn’t come in exactly as they should have but that’s almost inevitable in a production of this scope. The set pieces and projections designed by Brian Austin Jr. and Mark Bandura worked very well in tandem and, without close scrutiny, meshed well enough for the difference between hard material and projected visual to be unnoticeable.

Director Ian Alexander pulled outrageous facets from the performers liberally while having them rein it in and settle into being “just human” when it was important to the story. He also had the cast members whose dialogue necessitated using “foreign accents” apply it to a degree where they were present but still easily understood by people who were seated close to the stage; very important given that the more subtle humour depended on words from characters like ‘Ulla’ being instantly comprehensible while they were being ground into hash. He also displayed an excellent grasp of what was likely the point Mel Brooks was trying to make when he wrote the piece, that being that people had to have been willfully blind to allow the Nazi regime to come to power because the people at its root were beyond ridiculous. That’s something that’s still worth considering.

There’s a lot to enjoy and think about in this one.

This performance took place on Saturday May 12, 2018 at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia, Ontario. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be in the audience.Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘The Producers’ runs through to May 19, 2018.

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Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for Exit Laughing

Theatre Sarnia: Exit Laughing Sends Audiences Away Doing That And More

Saturday April 14, 2018

by Brian Hay

That’s especially true near the end of the first act. Like all good comedies Paul Elliot’s play has deeper messages and relays them by pulling strings from all over the emotional spectrum. Having performers who can deliver those ups and downs along with nuggets of absurdity that defy all logic as if they’re about to explode doesn’t hurt either.

Under the Direction of Willi Beckers Locke, Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘Exit Laughing’ achieves that. The cast of just five performers — six if the cat who kindly donated the litter-box is counted — was restrained when need be and outrageously over the top as the action demanded.

Carly Allen brought depth and understanding in her first appearance with the company as the repressed and slightly embittered ‘Rachel’. She seemed a bit nervous in her first moments but relaxed quickly and delivered the role with a flourish. Ryan Metzler, also relatively new to Theatre Sarnia, gave a performance that was virtually flawless. The role of ‘Bobby’ called for extremes to be believable and he delivered them nicely. Mary Anne Hucker was stellar as the priggish ‘Connie’, excelling both as the foil for the more outrageous characters around her and at sending out the dry one-liners the part contains.

The funniest moments came from Marney Austen and Rhonda Ross. Marney’s impeccable timing for both spoken and physical action along with an underlying pathos she placed at the character’s root established a the presence of ‘Leona’ as a dominant force in the production. Rhonda Ross delivered the air-headed ‘Millie’s’ outrageous (but somehow inexplicably logical) nuggets of thought(?) as if they were being dropped out of the blue and kept them feeling spontaneous even after the flakey nature of the woman had been established. The pair reacted to one another with consistent one-two combinations that pulled at all emotions; never a dull moment there to say the least.

The set was a neatly functional single piece unit created by Gary Locke and Bill Souliere. It and the decor, created by Drew Caldwell created atmosphere economically and didn’t require changes that could disrupt the flow of energy in the performance. The lighting done up by Catherine Souliere functioned subtly by keeping eyes focused on the action without drawing attention to how it was applied. Stage Manager Paul Richardson had the performers and wardrobe changes flowing briskly and the costuming by Jan Seabrook helped define characters while grounding them in the “real world”. The projections done by Ian Alexander gave the production the finish it needed very well.

The makeup was exceptional. Until the actors were seen after the show it was impossible to tell they were so heavily done up. Alice Jones, Barb St. Pierre and Maddy Taylor did an excellent job of “painting” the characters while making them look like everyday people when they were on the stage.

The cast and crew will have to read, react to, and occasionally wait on their audience because the production one that literally is funny enough to “have ‘em “rolling in the aisles”. Sound man Chris Matthews kept things clear most of the time and the actors projected well but they were all drowned out a few times when the crowd laughed uncontrollably. That’s a small complaint (and not a bad “problem” to have though) but some of what might have been the funniest dialogue was lost because of it. Given that it was opening night there’s no doubt they’ll address the issue.

It’s a funny and moving show that should be playing to good sized audiences before the run ends.

This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Friday April 13, 2018. It runs through to April 21, 2018. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.  

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