PORT ARTHUR —
If there’s one thing Mel Brooks knows how to do, it’s make people laugh — or make them furious. It all depends on how you feel about hearing jokes about hot-topic issues. Racism, sexism — really, any of the -isms — are all fair game to Brooks.
Port Arthur residents have the chance to judge Brooks’ sense of humor for themselves, starting tonight, by watching the offensive funnyman’s musical, “The Producers,” at the Lamar State College- Port Arthur Theater.
“It’s the funniest show in town — in this town and in any other town,” Keith Cockrell, LSC-PA director of theater, said at a dress rehearsal Thursday. “Mel Brooks has this basic philosophy — be big enough to take a joke. He makes fun of people. He makes fun of the people in front of him, he makes fun of the people in the show.
“Some people just don’t like Mel Brooks’ sense of humor, but thank goodness we all have different ideas of what we think is funny.”
Cockrell said that “The Producers” is really Brooks’ idea of a “love letter” to theater.
“If you look at his work, he makes fun of the things he loves,” Cockrell said. “He loves Westerns, he made ‘Blazing Saddles.’ He loves old monsters, he made ‘Young Frankenstein.’ He loves the theater — he had to make fun of it.
“Keep in mind, he’s making fun of the people — the producers — who had to raise $10 million to put on his show. And they sat out in the audience, and they laughed.”
Cockrell said that the play, a joint production between LSC-PA and Port Arthur Little Theater, is funnier than both movies — if that’s even possible.
“I actually think Mel Brooks is a stage person at heart,” he said. “I know his main success came from movies, but he understands the live audience so well. This is even funnier than the film that they made off the Broadway musical off the movie.
“It’s a traditional musical in that it goes scene, song, scene, song — like in ‘Oklahoma’ or ‘My Fair Lady.’ Brooks follows the traditional form — the traditional structure — while making fun of traditional musicals like ‘Singing in the Rain,’ ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘Oklahoma.’ It’s a show about show people.
“If you’ve ever been in a community play, if you’ve ever been on a stage acting, if you’ve ever been in a church production — you’re going to see yourself and the people you know in these characters. That’s what makes it funny. We’re laughing at ourselves.”
“The Producers,” simply put, is about two producers — the established Max Bialystock, played by 29-year-old Clark Reed, and the aspiring Leo Bloom, played by 20-year-old Aaron Alford.
“Max — as he describes it — is a two-faced, manipulative, despicable crook,” Clark Reed said. “But he is not without humanity. He’s all about getting and making money. He’s a dirty, rotten scoundrel, but he finds his humanity through Leo.”
Leo, on the other hand, is a reserved accountant — at the beginning.
“Leo’s timid, he’s shy, he’s not very outgoing,” Alford said. “But he has big dreams. He lives a comfortable life as an accountant. He doesn’t really speak up, and he has a boss that kind of walks all over him. But he dreams of being a producer, which is how he ends up with Max.”
Reed hails from Snider, but moved to the Gulf Coast region in 2009 to teach at West Orange-Stark Middle School. For the last year and a half, he has worked at LSC-PA as the assistant technical director in the theater.
“This is my first time playing a leading role in a musical,” he said. “I’ve been in ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Brutus,’ but I’ve never played a character quite like Max. I make a point to make him human.”
Orange-native Alford is currently on summer break from San Jacinto College, where he is a theater major. He agrees that his character is not like any other he’s been cast.
“I’ve played leads plenty, but I don’t think I’ve ever played timid and shy,” he said. “I’ve played heroic characters, which he kind of turns into by the end. But I don’t think I’ve ever played anyone like Leo. Although, honestly, there aren’t a whole lot of characters written like Leo.”
With characters, musical numbers and a sense of humor as unique as Brooks’, cast members said audience members should be prepared to do one thing — laugh.
“Prepare to be offended — but in a fun way,” Alford said.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m., July 18-19, 25-26 and Aug. 1, and at 2:30 p.m.., July 20 and 27.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and students of other schools. Admission is free for all LSC-PA faculty, staff and students.
The Lamar State College- Port Arthur Theater is located at 1700 Procter St.
For reservations, call (409) 984-6111.