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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Costume designer K.L. Alberts adjusts a dress.

Offensive. Tasteless. Crude.

And very, very funny.

"The Producers" opens at Pioneer Theatre Company Friday, bringing with it the usual flurry of irreverent fun for which the creator, Mel Brooks, is best known.

Here is a crash course: Broadway producer Max Bialystock has another flop on his hands. His accountant, Leo Bloom, while going over the bleak books, comments, "You could make more money with a flop than you could with a hit." With that, the two set out to produce the worst play in the history of theater, "Springtime for Hitler," and run off with the cash when it fails.

Producing 'Producers'

Many will see "The Producers" and give very little thought to exactly how much work, dollars, time and attention goes into every minute detail of a big-budget musical.

"The show cost roughly $1 million to produce when you put it all together," PTC artistic director Charles Morey said. "There's just an awful lot of people working on this thing."

Most departments begin as soon as they hear the season announced.


The sheer size of this show is what makes it difficult.

"I don't know how many individual pieces. There's probably 250 costumes or looks," said K.L. Alberts, costume designer. "I don't like to count until it's over — too exhausting."

"In the 'Producers,' there's multiples of everything. Twenty little old ladies, 20 storm troopers, 20 girls in pearls. You can't just buy one, you have to be able to get multiples of everything."

The other challenge at PTC is the short amount of build time.

"The cast is only in town three weeks before we open. As soon as the show is cast, I'll start calling the actors and theaters they've worked in and try to get measurements," said Carol Wells Day, costume shop supervisor.

Then Day, Alberts and their crew begin making the costumes out of muslin, a cheap, cotton fabric, so fittings can begin as soon as the cast arrives.

"What would be surprising is how much of the budget goes into buying shoes. It's really a large percentage," Day said.

Alberts added, "We need dance shoes, character shoes, little old lady shoes. There are oxford shoes, clogging shoes, seems like every day we order another batch of shoes."

Since PTC hires actors who are members of the union, Actor's Equity Association, new shoes are a must. Day also cites safety concerns as another reason.

"And I'm constantly trying to find new places to put shoes, too!"

Designer Alberts enjoyed working on the showgirl costumes. "I've never done something like the showgirls pieces before. At first I might have been a little timid. Chuck (director) said they need to be bigger, 'bigger pretzel, bigger sausage!'"

Those specialty costumes require a specialty staff who come from out of town to make the pieces for "Springtime for Hitler," an over-the-top look at all things German.


"You have to look at how many actors are in the show, and you figure out how many characters each actor has to be," explained Amanda French, resident hair and make-up designer for PTC.

The other big consideration for French is figuring out how each wig will be used. For "The Producers," so far there are 47.

"Besides thinking about which wig is appropriate for each character, we have to think about how it's going to affect quick changes, and there are some monster quick changes for this show."

With a mix of real-hair and synthetic wigs, French carefully chooses the right wig for each scene. "Wigs are glorified hats," she said. "With heat escaping from the head, a human-hair wig can easily have a 'bad-hair day' when they're tapping their hearts out, then you can see the curls starting to droop."

French and her assistant maintain the delicate wigs before every show, which is unusual. "You need to clean the netting and make it presentable, plus they last longer and look better on stage."

Another reason, "Some of the changes are so quick and so enormous, I'm pretty sure there's going to be a basket backstage to drop the wigs in. The wigs take a big beating."


When you see "The Producers," take note of Max's apartment and the amount of paper products sitting around.

"There's newspapers, scripts, programs, tickets," props mistress Marshelle Spafard said. "I build all of that."

Figuring out the paper is more involved that you might think. "I do a ton of research. I do a lot of computer graphics. I do a lot of Photoshop graphics. And the more accurate they are, the more fun they are for the actors."

Spafard is also responsible for dressing the set, "things that go on the walls, tables, lights, and you know floral arrangements."

And that includes furniture. "On stage, actors cannot sink in as much — it's much harder for them to get off the couch. All of the furniture has been torn down and rebuilt for this show. That's something the audience would never know."

Many of the show's props, though, will be very noticeable and require equal parts creativity, crafting and engineering.

"The pigeon puppets were an exciting challenge for me," Spafard said. Having never made puppets, she disassembled one of the popular Folkmanis puppets, "to see how they worked and I made a pattern from there. Then I had to make beaks so I had to do sculptures of their beaks. Trying to decide what could be seen from the audience, the right size and color and figuring out how to stuff them."

Spafard, who spends hours driving and shopping, jokes, "In the long run it saves you a lot of money because it gets shopping out of your system. I don't do much shopping off-hours. I am satisfied."


This level of quality is why many actors love returning to PTC. Sitting in the theater's wig shop for fittings, the actors gushed about the quality of everything — from wigs to costumes to set to cast.

And then there's the often overlooked orchestra pit.

Music Director Lawrence Goldberg, who did the music for both national tours of "The Producers," is equally impressed. "We actually almost have the full orchestra in the pit, which is almost unheard of for a regional theater."

That matters because, "you can't do justice to Mel Brooks' style, which requires the full sound of a big orchestra, on strings and keyboard. "The Producers" on Broadway had 23 musicians. We have 20."

Perhaps PTC regular and local favorite, Max Robinson, who will play Franz Liebkind, the unstable playwright, says it best, "The great thing about PTC is, you have a musical comedy experience and the production values are Broadway quality and sometimes better."

And when asked what folks can expect if they come to "The Producers," Robinson said, "Oh geez! A great time, belly laughs. It's just a great time — that's it in a nutshell."

If you go

What: "The Producers," Pioneer Theatre Company

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, University of Utah

When: Friday through May 10

How Much: $25-$49

Phone: 581-6961

Web: www.pioneertheatre.org

E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com