Pictured Above: Dance rehearsals for “The Producers” were underway April 19.
Just as the world was shutting down in March of 2020, the North Fork Community Theatre was gearing up for a longtime dream — a production of the ridiculously elaborate Mel Brooks musical “The Producers.”
It had taken the theater company a long time to get the rights to do the play, but live theater was on the no-go list at the height of the pandemic.
After two years of thinking just two weeks into the future — perhaps we’ll reopen in two weeks, and then another two weeks, and then another, and then planning smaller dramatic productions that were less likely to pack the house — the theater is now ready to open its doors May 12 for its first musical production since before the world turned upside down.
And this show, Director Mary Motto Kalich is betting, is the perfect antidote to the stress of these serious times.
“The Producers,” based on the 1967 film of the same name, is the story of a down-and-out Broadway producer whose new accountant convinces him to find investors for a production that’s guaranteed to fail, allowing him to keep the money he’d raised. But they don’t quite get what they expected with their show, a caricature of Nazis called “Springtime for Hitler.”
“It’s a buddy comedy. It’s almost their love story,” said Ms. Kalich at a recent choreography rehearsal as the theater hall in Mattituck filled with the clicks of tap shoes. “It’s ridiculous, silly, fun and happy. We all need that. Pre-sales are higher and earlier than we’ve ever had. That’s the power of this show. It’s almost never done, because it’s a behemoth.”
With 26 actors playing on average about five other side roles, 150 props to keep track of, and costuming so elaborate that one ensemble member has nine costume changes, it was controlled chaos in the theater three weeks out from opening night. But everyone seemed thrilled to be there.
“We have a strong team that’s devoted to taking complete ownership of their part,” said Ms. Kalich. That team includes choreographer Alyssa Kelly, prop master Stephen Ness, who has been ready for this production “since the beginning of time,” said Ms. Kalich, costume design by Vanessa Price, stage manager Rowland Hautsch and Musical Director Dina Mondello.
Mike Hipp, a frequent presence on the NFCT stage who also did the set design for this show, will be playing Leo, the accountant played by Gene Wilder in the film, while Nick Motlenski plays producer Max, the Zero Mostel character from the film.
This production had originally been cast in March of 2020, just before the first Covid shutdown, which forced actors into online rehearsals, where they did their best to learn the dance steps and songs and began to run their lines. But it was not to be.
While many actors are returning, some, like Mr. Motlenski, are new to the cast.
“It’s the role of a lifetime,” said Ms. Kalich. “He had a prior commitment two years ago, but now he can play the part.”
Julia Cappiello was an 18-year-old college freshman when she was originally cast as Ulla, the Swedish actress the duo hires as a secretary to help them run the production.
“I feel more confident about the role,” she said as she prepared to go on stage for the dance rehearsal. “Two years ago, we’d keep saying, well at least we’ll know the songs… at least we’ll have the blocking done” for the show that never arrived.
But Ms. Cappiello made the most of the pandemic, getting involved with every dramatic production the theater put up throughout the past two years, even directing a virtual production of “Clue” with a cast of college-age actors home from school with no theatrical outlet for their talents.
In keeping with the spirit of community theater, each performance will have a guest producer drawn from leaders throughout the community, who will have walk-on roles as prison guards.
On opening night, Thursday, May 12, Michael and Emilie Corey of the Corey Foundation, longtime benefactors of the theater and real-life associate producers of this show, will do the honors as guest producers.
“They helped launch this show, because a show like this is not in our budget,” said Ms. Kalich.
Other guest producers will include CAST Executive Director Kathy Demeroto, Paul Romanelli of Suffolk Security and the Eastern Long Island Hospital Foundation, Jeff Strong of Strong’s Marine, Long Island Wine Council President and winemaker at Paumanok and Palmer Vineyards Kareem Massoud, Lori Cohen of North Fork Women, Jill Schroeder of JABS, Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO Amy Loeb and Stacey Soloviev.
“They’re from all parts of the community and all different networks, and they’re all excited to be on stage for two minutes,” said Ms. Kalich. “The theater’s all about getting the community involved. They have to come here and put on a costume and rehearse their lines. It helps us build the community.”
The theater, which underwent a major ground-up overhaul of its basement rehearsal space, orchestra pit, lighting and stage just before the pandemic, is now working on a campaign to overhaul the auditorium. Renovations on the downstairs bathrooms are currently underway.
The theater has a $100,000 donation match right now.
“The next level is aesthetics,” said Ms. Kalich. “The seats were hand-me-downs from the Westhampton air base — they were done with them in 1982. We have volunteers tighten the bolts on them every week.”
Volunteers are currently sprucing up the theater, sanding and touching up paint in anticipation of having the community return to their theater this year, and a plan is underway to renovate the lobby where audience members enter the theater.
The theater’s annual Building on Tradition gala will be held Saturday, June 11 at Veteran’s Beach in Mattituck, with a matinee and evening seating. Youth on Stage members will be providing a revue of some highlights of their work, in anticipation of their summer production of “Rent,” opening July 21.
“We sell tickets to pay to put on the shows, and then we fundraise for the building,” said Ms. Kalich. “The pandemic was a difficult time to start fundraising. Art is very important and necessary, but not at the same level as what was going on the last two years.”
“The Producers” opens on Thursday, May 12 and runs through Sunday, May 29, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available online at nfct.com or by calling the box office at 631.298.6328.