Historically Hilarious

Historically Hilarious

APT actors follow in long line of funny ‘Producers’


Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom.

Take all the energy — pratfalls, double-takes, production numbers and superb comedic timing — that those legendary actors put into Mel Brooks’ hilarious tale about the worst musical ever imaginable, and repackage it one more time.

Tom Karounos and Patrick Edmunds bring all that to Arkansas Public Theatre in “The Producers” — and it’s even more fun because these are your friends and neighbors singing and dancing their hearts out.

The biggest challenge? Edmunds knows what it is for him.

“My goal is to not break character and crack up.”

Good luck with that.

The play actually started life as a movie back in 1967. Mel Brooks, who in the 1950s pioneered TV sketch writing with “The Sid Caesar Show” and in the 1970s single-handedly invented the movie spoof with “Blazing Saddles,” told Damon Wise of The Guardian that the story was based on real life.

Photo courtesy Danielle Keller
Patrick Edmunds, left, is Leopold Bloom and Tom Karounos is Max Bialystock in the Arkansas Public Theatre production of “The Producers.”

“I worked for a producer who wore a chicken fat-stained homburg and a black alpaca coat. He pounced on little old ladies and would make love to them. They gave him money for his plays, and they were so grateful for his attention. Later on there were a couple of guys who were doing flop after flop and living like kings. A press agent told me, ‘God forbid they should ever get a hit, because they’d never be able to pay off the backers!’ I coupled the producer with these two crooks and — BANG! — there was my story.”

The film developed a cult following and was brought to life anew on the New York stage production in 2001, taking 12 awards at that year’s Tonys, before being turned back into a movie again in 2005, Wise wrote.

“Personally, Mel Brooks was an an icon for me growing up,” says Ed McClure, director of the APT production opening Feb. 9. “Any time one of his movies came out, my buddies in high school and I would race to go see it — he spoke to that immature guy humor. So men who don’t necessarily like musicals will find humor in it. And folks who do like musicals will love it because it’s full of big, lavish production numbers. So it’s kind of the perfect script for musical theater and non-musical theater people.”

It’s the first time McClure has directed the show, and the first time for both Karounos and Edmunds to play the iconic roles. Serendipitously, Karounos also played Tevye in APT’s “Fiddler on the Roof” — a role originated by Zero Mostel — and Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family” at APT — a role played by Nathan Lane on Broadway.

“And now I’m Max Bialystock. It’s a great opportunity,” he says simply. “I was a kid who moved a lot as a child, and theater saved me. I took a break for a good 12 years and then another 10 years, so I walked back into theater in my 40s — and Ed took a chance on me. And I’m having the time of my life.”

Edmunds also credits APT for some big breaks that started with a role in “Spamalot.” “That jumpstarted everything,” he says. It’s also how he met Lexie Hardcastle, the love of his life, and they’re sharing the stage again in “The Producers” — thanks to friends and family who are helping take care of their son, Liam.

Photo courtesy Danielle Keller
Getting ready to produce a guaranteed flop, “The Producers” hire Roger de Bris, played by Wendell Jones, right, and his creative team — because de Bris is the worst director in New York.

“My entire life changed because of APT — in a very good way,” Edmunds says. “It’s where I met Lexie, where we got engaged, where we started a beautiful family. I’m blessed.

“I had to figure out how to make this happen, because I really, really wanted to do this show,” he adds. “It’s a challenge because it’s a longer show and there’s a lot of stuff to remember — and we have a baby! But Tom and I have very similar work ethics, so we started going through the show the day after we got the script and just built from there. We’re all juggling our real lives. But everybody there really wants to be there.

“These are people who have other responsibilities. This is what they do in their free time,” he concludes. “Whatever your perceptions of community theater are, come see a show. They will be drastically altered. Even our patrons are still in awe of the things we do.”





‘The Producers’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Feb. 9-10; 2 p.m. Feb. 11; again Feb. 15-18 & Feb. 22-25

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers

COST — $23-$35

INFO — 631-8988

Categories: Cover Story