• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

‘The Producers’ coming to Woodford Theatre

Woodford Theatre kicks off its 31st season Friday, Oct. 5, with “The Producers,” a satirical comedy written by Mel Brooks.

Based on his 1968 film, the Tony Award winning musical about a fading Broadway producer’s scheme to get rich by making an onstage flop allows director Vanessa Becker Weig and her cast to hold a mirror up to society so their audiences can see life “through laughter and humor,” she says.

“It is PG-13,” explains artistic director Trish Clark, “because it makes fun of everything, everything about being a human being – the sexual parts, the political parts – everything that we are. And what it’s going to ask you (the audience) to do is laugh at yourself.”

Weig says her actors are fully committed to the humor and are having a blast in rehearsals. They have rolled with the many challenges of doing musical comedy and embraced the work that comes with it.

“This script does a lot of the work for us,” says Weig. Her point was driven home during a “hilarious” read-through by the cast before rehearsals ever began.

“Working on it, I realized that it’s even better than I thought it was. It’s a really good script,” she says.

Going into auditions, Weig was a bit nervous about finding actors to portray the musical’s iconic characters, particularly the role of Roger. And then actor Jerome McIvane, who she hadn’t seen in about eight years, walked in for auditions.

He had both the singing voice and personality to pull off that role, she says.

Woodford Theatre veterans Melissa Rae Wilkeson and Terry Withers, who Weig says she’s always wanted to work with but hadn’t, have been going for it with zeal gained through their many onstage experiences.

Withers started making bold choices with his character, Carmen, when he wore a wig to auditions. “We thought it was hilarious and then at one point in the audition, for some reason, he pulled the wig off. And it was just hilarious to see him pull that wig off,” says Clark, laughing.

“He made a bold choice, which doesn’t always work, but it did for this show, and (for) that particular role it worked really, really well,” adds Weig.

She says Jordan Strouse, a Transylvania University student, has also been willing to “push the envelope” in his portrayal of Franz. And she appreciates being in a position where she needs to tell an actor when it’s too much and he/she needs to pull back.

Two other actors, who she’s worked with before, Johnathan Watson and Forrest Loeffler, were just right for the roles of Max and Leo.

“Sometimes,” Weig says, “there are roles that come up for people that are literally roles they’re supposed to play. And these are two roles they’re supposed to play.”

Her assistant director, Daniel Dennert, has never seen “The Producers” onstage or onscreen, and yet he has inspired her to try different approaches to directing the musical comedy to “make this our own,” says Weig.

Tickets – $22 for adults and $15 for students – to “The Producers” are available by visiting woodfordtheatre.com or calling 873-0648. Performances are Oct. 5 to 7, 12 to 14 and 18 to 21, with Friday and Saturday night performances at 8 and Sunday matinees at 2. A special Thursday night, Oct. 18, performance begins at 7:30.

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