When Sean Patterson took on the role of Max Bialystock in the Rivertown Theaters’ production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” he knew he’d be following in some giant footsteps.
The role of the shyster who cons unsuspecting victims into investing in what he hopes will be a Broadway flop was originated by Zero Mostel in the 1968 film version and covered by Nathan Lane in the 2001 musical and the subsequent film.
“Those are some big shoes to fill and I’m not quite sure I fill them,” Patterson said. “But they are familiar shoes, and I am comfortable in them.”
“The Producers” opens Friday night at Rivertown and runs on three weekends through Sept. 27.
Ricky Graham directs a cast of 25 principals and ensemble members.
As Brooks’ first successful comedy film, “The Producers” is the story of a shady producer (Bialystock) who, aided by his mousy accountant Leo Bloom, conspires to illegally sell more than 100 percent of the shares in a Broadway production that he is counting on to close right after its opening night.
Then the two of them would take the money they conned the investors out of and flee the country.
The show the two men hope will fail, “Springtime for Hitler,” was written by an unrepentant ex-Nazi named Franz Liebkind; it was felt to be so tasteless that the audience and the critics would pan it.
However, their plan backfires when the audience, though stunned at first, comes to believe it is a satire, and they love it.
Bialystock and Bloom end up in jail and pick up where they left off, conning the convicts into investing in their “Prisoner of Love” production.
The musical version was co-written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, who also penned “Hairspray,” in which Patterson and Graham also performed locally.
“The writing (in the musical) is so great because everything is so active and so playable,” Patterson said. “You don’t have to be funny; you just have to be invested in what’s happening. The situations are funny and what you’re doing is funny, but you don’t have to work hard to get the jokes.”
Rivertown’s artistic director, Gary Rucker, in the role of Leo Bloom, acknowledged that his character takes a back seat to the more boisterous character of Max.
“It’s really Max’s show,” Rucker said. “There’s a few laughs that I get and a couple of good (musical) numbers but, for the most part, I’m just setting up Sean and getting out of the way. He’s got all the really good stuff.
“I find Leo’s character’s personality really funny and interesting,” Rucker said. “He’s a dreamer, and that’s what I’m trying to bring out.”
Graham, who is simultaneously directing a production of “Flora the Red Menace” at NOCCA, spoke about the daunting challenges posed by such a large production, in terms of both cast and technical requirements.
“It’s a monster of a show with all these cast people coming and going and the lighting, sound, costumes and these massive sets,” Graham said. “But it’s actually going well as we work these things out. I’ve got some great people working on the tech end, as well as a good cast. If tech knows what it’s doing, that’s half the battle, and we’ve got that down.”
In addition to Patterson and Rucker, other key cast members are Caroline Cuseo as Ulla, Kevin Murphy as Roger De Bris, Dwayne Specich as Carmen and Alan Payne as Franz. The ensembles include eight males and 11 females. Payne is also musical director and Earl Lennie is the lighting designer. Marty Aikens is the set designer and choreography is by Kelly Fouchi and Karen Hebert.