Music comedy on local stages

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Dearborn residents Brian Townsend (left) as Max Bialystock and Dan Hartley as Leo Bloom rehearse for the Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan musical comedy “The Producers.” The show runs for four weekends, April 27 to May 20 at the Players Guild of Dearborn. For more information call (313) 561-TKTS or go to

By Sue Suchyta
Local stages will feature musical comedy as the Players Guild of Dearborn rehearses the Mel Brooks comedy, “The Producers,” Divine Child High School presents “Annie get your Gun” and the Friends of the Opera Michigan bring “The Most happy Fella” to Dearborn’s Michael A. Guido Theater.

Dearborn residents Dan Hartley and Brian Townsend will play Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock, respectively, in the Players Guild of Dearborn production of the Mel Brooks and Thomas Mehan musical comedy “The Producers.”

When Leo, a mild-mannered accountant shows Max, a down-on-his-luck producer that a quickly closing flop could potentially make more money than a hit, the two set out to find the worst script, director and cast to ensure a profitable flop.

Musical director Ken Pletzer of Northville said the cast includes some serious talent and audiences will be laughing nonstop throughout the show.

“If auditions are any sign of what the show is going to be like, it’s going to be an awesome show,” Pletzer said. “We have some very talented folks … if you’re a fan of Brian Townsend you might want to come see the show.”

He added that Hartley was hilarious at auditions.

Director Valerie Haas of Inkster said the show is continuously funny.

“It is nonstop joke after joke after joke,” Haas said. “It is a look at the biggest loser of all producers, named Max Bialystock, who keeps trying to do great theater, a great show, and it always turns out to be a disaster. And he’s just produced another one: ‘Funny Boy, the musical Hamlet.’”

She said Max and Leo find the worst possible script, “Springtime for Hitler,” the worst director in town – an over-the-top gay guy and his equally untalented live-in entourage of set designers and costumers, and the worst singers, dancers and actors they can find.

However, when the leading man literally breaks a leg, the director must step into the role, and it changes the entire perspective.

“It turns Hitler into this over-the-top gay man, the reviews come out that it’s this wonderful satiric masterpiece, and it’s a hit,” Haas said.

She said the casting committee saw some really good auditions, and she ended up getting almost the exact number of people that she needed.

“We needed some very specific types,” Haas said. “We needed somebody that could pull off a lot of comedy with a lot of singing and some dancing and everything so we were very fortunate to get the people that we got.”

She added that choreographer Valerie Mould used her contacts to pull in some very good dancers who have worked with her before.

She said one of the funniest scenes is the number “Keep it Gay,” set in the townhouse of Roger DeBris (played by Phillip Booth of Dearborn), the director.

“He and his common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (played by Alex Gojkov of Redford) also live with the entire production team,” Mould said. “It’s this huge over-the-top number where Max and Leo are trying to talk Roger into directing their show, ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ and how he (Roger) is trying to say ‘no’ and then he has these brilliant ideas and things like that.”

Haas said the other funniest scene is “Springtime for Hitler” itself, the play within the play.

“It’s this god awful yet brilliant depiction of Franz Leibkin’s play … a wonderful homage to his Fuhrer,” Haas said. “It’s got tap-dancing storm troopers and cannons and people with cardboard U-boats and tanks and all this going on. It’s supposed to be hideous… the fact that the critics like it is beyond understanding.”

She said the actors in the ensemble are very busy, playing anywhere from five to nine roles each.

“They are kept on stage constantly coming and going as different characters,” Haas said.

She said Max’s financial backers – little old ladies whom he has affairs with to fund his plays – some played by the male ensemble – come out and do a hysterical tap dance number using walkers instead of tap shoes.

“There is so much going on,” Haas said. “The audition scene where they’re auditioning actors is a scream because they have some of the worst people ever coming out … and every one of them is awful … which is what Max and Leo want.”

Townsend agreed that it is one of the funniest shows around.

“It’s written by a true master of comedy and comedic writing, Mel Brooks, who just has an ear for the rhythm of comedy,” Townsend said. “Single words alone are funny when they’re in his hands.”

He added that the show has something for everyone, and everyone gets equally skewered at the same time.

“There’s a physical humor to everything.There’s wit to stuff – it’s very vaudevillian in its nature,” Townsend said. “So you have to be paying attention and listening all the time.”

Booth added that it helps if you remember that Mel Brooks was a writer for Sid Caesar.

“Part of Roger’s magic is that he has Carmen Ghia to play off of, which is played by Alex Gojhov and you couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” Booth said. “The back and forth between Alex and I would be fun to do, even if there were no audience – it would be worth six weeks of rehearsal to do it because it is so fun.”

Booth added that the comedic style is tried and true.

“The timing is there, the funny words are there, all the embellishments are there, and if you click into that chemistry, it works,” Booth said.

Booth added that the show has the same fast pace as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Townsend said that it is a show that is full of challenges for the Guild.

“It is great that we’re attempting it,” Townsend said. “We will give it our all and it will be just an evening full of laughter for whoever comes see it … and we’ve got the right people in place to help pull it off.”

The show launches its four-weekend run April 27 at the Players Guild of Dearborn, 21730 Madison in Dearborn.

For tickets, call (313) 561-TKTS or go to

Divine Child High School will open the Irving Berlin musical “Annie Get Your Gun” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for a two-weekend run.

Other performances include 7:30 p.m. shows March 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31, with a 3 p.m. matinee March 25 in the school auditorium.

The story of sharpshooter Annie Oakley features the songs “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “There’s No Business like Show Business.”

The role of Annie Oakley will be shared by Kara Frank and Maddie Rich, both seniors from Dearborn. Frank Butler will be played by Nick Swider, a senior from Livonia.

Tommy will be played by Jordan Ebejer, a senior from Detroit, while the role of Winnie will be shared by Meghan Walker, a freshman from Dearborn Heights and Louise Sawaya, a senior from Westland.

Chief Sitting Bull is played by Chris Wepler , a junior from Belleville, with Charlie played by Brendan Olech, a sophomore, Livonia.

Little Jake will be performed by John Burklow, a freshman from Livonia. The role of Dolly will be shared by Alyssa Camacho, a senior from Canton Township and Cara Ruetz, a junior from Dearborn.

The role of Buffalo Bill will be shared by Matt Posh, a senior from Canton and Harry Totten, a junior from Dearborn Heights. Mac the Prop Man will be played by Chris Meyers, a sophomore from Willis.

Dearborn residents in featured roles include freshman Natalie Berry as Nellie, junior Katherine Lieblang as Jessie, senior Luke Bochenek as Wilson and sophomore Steven Arroyo as Pawnee Bill.

Other Dearborn cast members include junior Adrienne Walling and senior Abbie Burns as a duo, freshman Sean Vichinsky as the bandleader, senior Kelly O’Brien as a waitress, junior Elena Tantillo as Potter and porter and sophomore Emily Ward as Mrs. Adams.

Dancers include senior Jessie White of Livonia, sophomore Hannah Moore of Taylor, Dearborn senior Michelle Kerr and Dearborn freshmen Annie Nelson, Julia Lentz and Kasey Schock.

Other ensemble members include juniors Kristen Neville and Stacy Collins, and freshman Laura Moore from Dearborn; junior Allison Brotherton and freshman Sarah Posh from Canton; and sophomores Lauren Stuble from Plymouth and Patricia Toby from Inkster.

The show was directed by Elisa Noeske of Dearborn Heights, with vocal direction by Christopher Urbiel of Dearborn. Robert Bush provided the orchestral and technical direction.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Fridays also feature a Lenten fish fry and show admission for $15, while the closing March 31 will feature a 6 p.m. pig roast and show ticket $15 combo.

The Friends of the Opera of Michigan, with the generous support of the city of Dearborn, will bring the Frank Loesser musical “The Most Happy Fella” to Dearborn at 8 p.m. March 30 and 31 in the Michael A. Guido Theater in the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave.

The show tells the tale of a mail order bride who arrives with a photo of the wrong man.

The show is dedicated to the memory of the late Mayor Guido, who was a strong supporter and occasional performer in local community theatre productions.

The show will include a special guest appearance by current Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr.

The show stars Quinto Milito and Katherine Kujala, and features Annie Klark, John Hummel and Elizabeth Mitchell. International opera tenor Carlos Seise will make a guest appearance as well.

The show is directed by James Pinard, with musical direction by Steve Segraves, choreography by Patricia Damian and conducted by William Harrison.

Call (313) 943-2354 for ticket information.