Washington Park institution takes a risk with risque production

‘Producers’ star on his big break
bout a year ago Jason Marks, then an actor, singer and teacher in Virginia, won a huge prize designed to launch a New York City theater career: a six-month stay at a Times Square hotel (valued at more than $35,000 at current room rates), $5,000 cash and classes and coaching. Dubbed the Staybridge Suites “Big Broadway Break” contest, after the hotel he called home for the latter months of 2010 and beginning of this year, the honor was awarded after public voting winnowed the entrants to 10 finalists and a panel of Broadway experts selected Marks as the ultimate winner. “I was told ... the judges not only looked at my (entry) video but at my website and resumé and saw an entire package,” Marks says. “I heard it was because they saw somebody who they felt showed a lot of promise and needed that extra boost to help them go to the next level. I was very lucky.” His first audition was just two days after moving into the hotel. He performed in small works in New York, but his biggest roles since the jump to the big city have been out of town: four months in Oregon in “Holmes & Watson Save the Empire” and two months in Albany as Max Bialystock in “The Producers.” “I don’t know if I can call myself a ‘New York-based actor’ yet,” says Marks with a laugh. “I’m working consistently, but I haven’t done a lot in the city yet. ... I have New York in my blood: My mother was born there, and my cousin was on Broadway in ‘Cats.’ I always knew that’s where I was meant to be, but I just never had the bravery to go for it. The universe lined up for me.” — Steve Barnes







VINCENT DIPERI, above, plays the flamboyant director Roger DeBris in “The Producers,” opening next week at Park Playhouse in Albany. The company rehearsed in dance studios at The Egg.



ark Playhouse’s biggest risk also has the potential to be its biggest success. The summer-theater company, known for more than two decades’ worth of old-fashioned musicals performed on the amphitheater stage at the Washington Park Lakehouse in Albany, this summer is staging its most ambitious show in years: Mel Brooks’ smash 2001 Broadway hit “The Producers.” A wickedly funny musical retelling of Brooks’ 1968 movie of the same name, “The Producers” follows the misadventures of Max Bialystock, a disgraced Broadway producer seeking his next hit, and Leo Bloom, an accountant who wants more fulfillment than his eyeshade-andadding-machine existence offers. When Leo discovers that, thanks to accounting trickery, they can make more money by producing a flop than a hit, the pair collude to put on the worst musical they can find. That show-within-theshow, called “Springtime for Hitler,” is in such poor taste that it surely will close

In the spotlight
“THE PRODUCERS” Washington Park Lakehouse, Albany
■ Opens: 8 p.m. Tuesday ■ Continues: 8 p.m. Tuesday ■ Where: Park Playhouse,

through Sunday, through Aug. 14
■ Admission: Reserved seats, $12 and $14 ($1 discount for seniors, kids); hillside seating, free ■ Info: 434-0776 or http://www. parkplayhouse.com ■ Upcoming: Park Playhouse’s teen wing, Park Playhouse II, will present “Thoroughly Modern Millie” from Aug. 2 to 14; its youth show, Park Playhouse Kids’ “Annie Jr.,” will be performed July 26 to 31. Both begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday on the Lakehouse stage.

after opening night, they believe, but it’s instead received as a fresh, daring spoof. While beloved on Broadway and on the

road, with lead roles originated by Nathan Lane (Max) and Matthew Broderick (Leo), “The Producers” is also considerably racier than anything Park Playhouse has ever staged. Max raises capital for his shows by sexually servicing elderly women (“and I’ve got the denture bites to prove it”), there’s abundant breast-ogling and butt-slapping and single-, double- and triple-entendres, and a red-glitter swastika rises above the stage. More outrageous still, the director of “Springtime for Hitler,” who eventually takes over the title role, is a cross-dresser so extravagantly gay that he’s more inferno than merely flaming. “Is the Park Playhouse audience ready for this? We’re going to find out,” says Owen Smith, now in his second year as producing artistic director. Smith understands that a segment of his audience is conservative, so much so that he had complaints when the word “Goddamn” was uttered in “Annie Get Your Gun” last summer. Further, producing a PG-13 musical outdoors, in a city park, for free is more of a risk than for a company with a paying, and presumably

more theater-savvy, audience. “It’s ‘The Producers’ — a known quantity,” says Smith. “You can see worse stuff on Comedy Central at 7 p.m.” Adds director Michael LoPorto, returning to lead his fifth Park Playhouse show, “It’s so popular that most people will have to know what they’re in for. There’s a gay, tap-dancing Hitler, but it’s a loving send-up by Mel Brooks.” Smith and his board of directors chose “The Producers” precisely because doing so is a bold gesture, a demonstration that Park Playhouse wants to shed some of its stodgy image and attract a broader demographic. Smith’s task since being hired, at the beginning of 2010, was to get Park Playhouse’s administration, finances and fundraising under control. With that believed to be nearly achieved, attention turned to the company’s products: its mainstage production and kids’ performances during the summer and yearround education programs. The hope is that, a few years hence, “The Producers” will be seen as a turning point for the company.
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◀ LEAD ACTORS Jason Jacoby as Leo Bloom, far left, and Jason Marks as Max Bialystock on the Park Playhouse set of “The Producers.”