Like most entertainment columnists, I got started by being just a big fan. I have no idea how much money I've spent on tickets to shows and movies over the years but it probably rivals the amount of money I've spent on food. One of the people that made me think, "hey, I want to do that," as a kid was Mel Brooks, so when I heard that Maui OnStage was going to be doing "The Producers," I just had to sign up for the fun. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm in this one; therefore Maui Weekly contributor Sarah Ruppenthal will be covering Maui Backstage on July 12.
Mel Brooks began his illustrious career performing at summer clubs in the Catskills and Poconos like many other Jewish comedians. But not only did he do shtick, he played piano too. Brooks' musical background has popped up here and there in many of his films, but few are aware that he composes all his own original music.
Brooks' work has rarely received recognition from the Oscar peeps but one of his two nominations was for best original song, the theme to "Blazing Saddles." His only win was for best original screenplay in 1969 for "The Producers." Though critically praised, the 1968 version was a financial flop. To add insult to injury his wife, the late Anne Bancroft, "Get Smart" writing partner, Buck Henry, and an unknown actor he hoped to cast in "The Producers," Dustin Hoffman, all hit box office gold that same year with "The Graduate."
Michael Pulliam, Laura Cole, and Steven Dascoulias (from left), appear in an scene from the Maui OnStage production of Mel Brooks’ smash Broadway hit, “The Producers.”
JACK GRACE photo
Brooks' second film, the very expensive shot on location in Yugoslavia, 1971's "The Twelve Chairs," was another critical hit but an even bigger flop. Knowing his star was fading and needing a hit, his third try was a charm, "Blazing Saddles," in 1973. He immediately followed that with the even bigger hit "Young Frankenstein," and never looked back.
Most 80-year-old entertainers decide to ride off into the sunset, but not Brooks. In 2001 he mounted the musical adaptation of "The Producers," which is arguably his greatest success.
We quickly forget Broadway was in trouble a mere 15 years ago. The revival of "Chicago" started its great comeback but it was "The Producers," that became one of Broadway's biggest hits ever, winning a record 12 Tony Awards.
Since then Broadway is booming, the 2008-09 season being its greatest sales season in history with hits like "Wicked," "Billy Elliot," "The Little Mermaid," "Jersey Boys," and "Spamalot," just to name a few, but it was "The Producers" that started the great sales avalanche.
And "The Producers" kept going with a hit London production, a Hollywood production with Jason Alexander and Martin Short, multiple national and international tours, a 2005 new film version with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman and now countless regional and community theater productions all over the world.
The Maui OnStage production is helmed by director Jennifer Rose, choreographed by Camille Romero and under the musical direction of Seabury Hall's Stephen Haynes. The ensemble cast of 32 features visiting New York actress Laura Cole as sex bomb Ulla, Steven Dascoulias as Max Bialystock, Dale Button as Nazi playwright Franz, Francis Tau'a as uber gay director Roger DeBris, Kalani Whitford as his common law assistant Carmen Ghia, and yeah, I'm in there too as Leo Bloom.
Max and Leo have concocted a scheme to sell 20 times the amount of shares available in backing a show, put on a $100,000 Broadway flop and keep the rest. The trick is they need to ensure the show will close on opening night so they choose "Springtime for Hitler: A gay romp with Eva and Adolf in Berchtesgaden." High kicking storm troopers sing and dance in this "musical love letter to Hitler." A showgirl extravaganza the likes of which Maui rarely sees features over-the-top handmade costumes by Marsha Kelly, including Ellen Peterson sporting a gigantic sausage on her head and Laura Cole as a "Reichsadler," the German Imperial eagle. The massive production number includes 24 dancers culminating with a human swastika formation.
1968 audiences may not have been ready for "The Producers." To quote Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "comedy is tragedy plus time. In 1865 you couldn't touch the Lincoln assassination, but now its fair game." Or as "Springtime's . . ." Adolf sings "The thing you gotta know is everything is showbiz . . . Heil my self, watch my show."
* The Maui premiere of "The Producers" by Mel Brooks opens July 6 and runs through July 29. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays at the Historic Iao Theater. All-new reserved seating tickets are $15 to $28. Dinner packages are available with Bistro Casanova. "The Producers" contains sexual innuendo and language and may not be appropriate for children. For tickets or more information, call 242-6969; or purchase tickets online at mauionstage.com.
Comic Mike Epps has generated an extraordinary amount of buzz among his peers and within the entertainment industry for being one of the funniest comic actors to emerge into the Hollywood scene. He recently starred in his own standup special "Mike Epps Presents" and is currently on a national comedy tour. With a career that spans from standup comedy, TV, and film, Epps' current success is hard earned and well deserved. A native of Indiana, Epps has steadily climbed his way up the standup comedy ranks since 1995 when he appeared regularly on HBO's Def Comedy Jam. During a performance at LA's Comedy Store, Epps caught the attention of Ice Cube who went on to cast him in both the "Friday" movie series and in "All About the Benjamins." Known for his quick wit and ability to blend hip hop with comedy, Epps hosted both the 2009 and 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards. His first comedy rap album, called "Funny Bidness: Da Album," features Snoop Dogg, Kid Rock, and Slim Thug to name a few. Other films Epps has appeared in recent years include "Guess Who," with Bernie Mac and Aston Kutcher, "The Honeymooners," with Cedric the Entertainer, and as Black Doug in "The Hangover."
* Tom Moffat Productions presents Mike Epps in performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Castle Theater at the MACC. This performance is intended for mature audiences. Tickets are $25, $45, $55, and $65, plus applicable fees. To purchase tickets visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
Don't miss the "Hollywood Swing Canteen," tomorrow night, a 1940s style cabaret variety show with the "Sirens of Song" Casey Murphy, Lia Krieg, Jonna Ahn and Nara Boone. The one-night-only event happens at the Maui Tropical Plantation. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., cabaret show 7:30 to 9:30 with swing dancing to follow until 11 p.m.
Additional performers include the Kit Kat Club, Trevor Arnholt, visuals by Doug DeBoer, and scintillating sounds from maestro Scott Provonsha. The event features two full-service bars, catering by A Kat Kreations and a pinup parade fashion show. Tickets are $15 with limited reserved table seating available for $25 per person. Advance tickets may be purchased online at hollywoodswing.eventbrite.com or at the door.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts opens their teen summer musical theatre camp production of "Narnia," tomorrow night at the Steppingstone Playhouse. Step through the wardrobe into the enchanting world of Narnia as 52 young performers from age 12 through 20 bring C.S. Lewis' classic story to life. The cast has been training and rehearsing daily under the expert guidance of directors Sally Sefton and David C. Johnston, musical director Kirsten Otterson, choreographer Amelia Nelson and acting teacher Francis Tau'a.
* "Narnia" opens Friday (sold out) and runs through July 8. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays at the Steppingstone Playhouse. Tickets are $14 adults and $10 students 18 and younger. For tickets visit mauiacademy.org, call 244-8760 or purchase at the customer service kiosk at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.