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Bialystock and Bloom from the perspective of the actors

Patrick Griffin | Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This weekend, the comedic musical dynasty that is “The Producers” hits the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s own PEMCo. has the exclusive rights to the musical, and is one of the first amateur clubs to put on the show since the rights were released. The two famous lead roles will be portrayed by Notre Dame students Joe Augustinsky (Max Bialystock) and Michael Eardley (Leo Bloom). Scene had the chance to sit down with both actors and ask them about their experiences.

S: How do you identify with the character that you portray in “The Producers?”

J: When I first got the role, I found it difficult identifying with the character (Max Bialystock), because we are different on many levels. If I had to describe him in one word, it would probably be “sleezeball,” in every sense of the word. His main goal is making money, and he’ll do anything to do so. I think deep down he’s a good guy and wants to be liked by everyone. By the end, I feel that Max is surprised that he finds a good friend in Leo. I like to think that I would relate better to the end product. By the end of the show, he really finds out who he is.

M: Leo is a hysterical. He starts off as a mundane accountant who is tired of life and work. He has a secret passion to be a Broadway producer and to become famous. Unfortunately, he feels he is stuck in the rut of daily life. When he finds the opportunity to make a million dollars in Max’s plan, he jumps on it and decides to break all rules that he grew up with. It’s really a coming of age for Leo. He’s still quirky but more he becomes a more normal human being. It’s all about his development throughout the show.

S: Which adaptations of The Producers have you seen?

M: Well, there’s the original 1968 Mel Brooks movie and the 2005 musical. The new movie is based on the Broadway musical which is based on the original movie. Our version is different. I think our version is much faster than the musical. Leo is less mousy than the Matthew Broderick version. I think our director, Bill, has brought a lot of originality to the roles.

J: I have also seen both movies. Both movies are great. They’re the same story but each has a different style. I think one of the biggest challenges of the show is that people go with expectations of what it’s supposed to look like. It’s hard coming into a role originated by Zero Mostel. Nathan Lane took it in a different direction. I tried to inject my own self into it. Zero Mostel was the old creepy man. Nathan Lane was more quirky. I watched both, but I stopped listening to the soundtrack. Instead, I worked on making the role my own, and I think I was successful just as Michael was successful in his role.

S: How does it feel to try to fill the shoes of actors of the caliber of Matthew Broderic and Nathan Lane?

J: Nathan Lane won a Tony for the role. I am just trying to add a fresh perspective. I hope the audience can go to the show without expecting a Nathan Lane performance, but something different. Not to say that that is worse.

M: Originally Gene Wilder played Leo. He was the quirky Willy Wonka type. Matthew Broderick really portrays the dweeby accountant side of Leo both vocally and in his movement. I tried to bring my own quirkiness. I think it’s more exciting for the audience to find something they aren’t expecting.

S: Why will Notre Dame students enjoy PEMCo.’s rendition of “The Producers?”

M: It’s definitely a politically incorrect show on many levels, and that is appealing to college students. There are plenty of dirty jokes. There’s also good music, but when you’re watching, you can’t believe what’s going on. College students will really appreciate that. I also think that people are impressed seeing their peers and the quality they’re able to bring especially with an entirely student run group. It’s exciting considering all the expectations and I’m excited to share it with campus.

J: The great thing about it is that it’s not a stereotypical musical. I’ve been advertising that it won’t be what people expect. For those who like musicals, there are great dance numbers and songs. For those that don’t like musicals it’s written by Mel Brooks and it would be hard for a person not to find something by Mel Brooks that they like. There are all types of humor: slapstick, dirty jokes, puns; everyone can find something to laugh at and enjoy. I’m just amazed by the amount of time and dedication put in by the cast. It’s the energy that everyone brings; there’s not a weak link in show in my mind. Every scene is something to watch. There’s a huge scope to find something to like in the musical. People won’t be expecting it. People should be excited. I would like to thank the cast and production staff for all work they’ve put in. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with them for about four months.

M: I second that.