Monday, October 16, 2006

REV: Austin Owen in The Producers

I first met this kid named Austin Owen when he was working in Kathleen Hudson's office at Schreiner. Then he shows up with a huge voice in Ryan Bailey's Big River opposite Clifton Fifer. He vanishes -- off to school for the big degree -- and then i run into him again a month ago when he comes to use our studio here at the Ranch to record his new CD. Well, now he's on national tour with The Producers, and it looks like he's hit the big time. I'm going to try to catch him in El Paso next May -- that's the closest they come to us. I'll post stuff on him as i find it -- here's a couple of recent press reviews:

Come join 'The Producers' party
By JAY HANDELMAN, Herald-Tribune

Austin Owen studied to be an actor, but he wound up as one of "The Producers."

His story is one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" tales.

After graduating from Florida State University earlier this year, Owen went to his first New York audition and walked away with the role of Leo Bloom, an accountant-turned-producer, in a new national tour of the Mel Brooks musical.

The non-Equity tour comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota this weekend for five performances tonight through Sunday.

"This is what I've been training to do my entire life. Paying for my education and to land this gig has been a dream. I've been on cloud nine since they first told me," he said.

Owen has the role that Matthew Broderick created onstage and in the 2005 film. He stars opposite Jason Simon as Max Bialystock, a former hotshot producer who hasn't had a hit in years, formerly played by Nathan Lane.

Max is at his professional (and personal) low point when Leo shows up at his office to do an audit. With his accounting logic, Leo realizes that Max could make more money with a flop than with a hit.

Max persuades Leo to join a scheme to raise double the money they need to produce what they expect will be the worst show in Broadway history: "Springtime for Hitler." Who knew it would be hailed as the greatest show in years?

Of course, Max and Leo wind up in big trouble.

Brooks wrote the book for the show (with Thomas Meehan), as well as the music and lyrics for all the songs, including the "Springtime for Hitler" number that was a centerpiece of his classic 1968 film that starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and was a big production number in the musical.

The original Broadway production, which is still running after more than five years, won 12 Tony Awards, including best musical -- more than any show in history. Brooks himself won two Tonys.

The latest tour began last week in Owensboro, Ky., after weeks of rehearsals in Canada with associates of original director and choreographer Susan Stroman.

The two actors said they were exuberant about playing their roles but exhausted.

"This is almost like preparing for a marathon," Simon said. "You run every single scene as much as you can to build up the endurance you need, and when you put those things together, you have to figure out how to get from point A to point B."

By running through each scene and song several times a day, "you get to figure out what you need to get through them in the actual show," he said.

But he's not complaining.

"This is a dream role, but it's intimidating. By the time I finished going through the script with my highlighter, the ink ran out," Simon said.

The two men started working on their chemistry when they met at auditions, not knowing that either or both would be cast in the show.

"We just kind of got lucky," Simon said. "It just clicked between us. Once we found out that we were going to do it, we got in touch with each other.

"There were three months in between casting and the start of rehearsals, and we talked a lot in that period of time. We wanted to make ourselves on even footing."

Simon describes Max as "someone who was once in a position where everything he wanted, he had at his disposal. But now he's sleeping with little old ladies to get money to back his shows. That shows how far he's fallen."

As they concoct their scheme, Max and Leo encounter a strange array of people. They hire a pragmatic Swedish bombshell to be their secretary, and meet Franz Liebkind, the neophyte playwright who wrote "Springtime for Hitler" as a serious drama. They then coax Roger De Bris, theater's most extravagant and flamboyant director, to camp it up as a song-and-dance show.

Simon got to see the original Broadway cast and has long been a fan of the film, but he's not worried about comparing himself with them or trying to emulate the others.

"There's an old adage as far as comedy that if you're going to steal, steal from the best. Obviously, there are big differences in the way I'm going to be playing Max."

Owen said he didn't love the show the first time he saw it but then fell in love with the movie and got a new appreciation of the stage musical after being cast as Leo.

Owen describes Leo as a "meek, mild-mannered man who doesn't have a whole lot going on for him. It's interesting to see him get his bearings throughout the show. He's constantly making discoveries about himself onstage."

And that's what Owen has been doing himself.

"This is what I have prepared for and what I've wanted to do. I just can't believe I'm playing this dork for the next year. It's great."

An entertaining if not sparkling "Producers"
SUSAN RIFE, Herald-Tribune, September 30. 2006 4:44PM

From all reports, Mel Brooks’ 2001 Broadway musical “The Producers,” starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, was a nearly transcendent comic theatrical experience. It won scads of Tony Awards and energized audiences like mad.

The non-Equity touring production of “The Producers” that opened the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall’s 2006-2007 season Friday night fell short of transcendent, although it remains a worthy entertainment.

Jason Simon and Austin Owen turn in credible performances as the titular producers, although there’s more camaraderie than chemistry between the two. Simon’s Max Bialystock, the Broadway producer who hasn’t had a hit in years, is solid vocally and has a commanding stage presence, but it’s not in the same realm as Lane’s comic tour de force.

The same holds true for Owen’s Leo Bloom, although he turns in a terrific performance of physical comedy as the nerdy accountant who shows up to audit Max’s books and finds himself involved in a plot to stage a money-making flop in the form of a musical ode to Nazi Germany, “Springtime for Hitler.”

Owen portrays Bloom as a squirming mass of insecurities, so distrustful of himself that he carries a remnant of baby blanket in his pocket to help him through life’s rough patches. His transformation from pencil-pusher to would-be theatrical producer in “I Wanna Be a Producer” is delightful, as a lineup of unhappy accountants is overwhelmed by showgirls.

Max and Leo set off to find the worst musical imaginable, and are successful in Greenwich Village, where they meet Franz Liebkind (Jesse Coleman), whose “Springtime for Hitler” looks a lot like theatrical suicide to the producers – just what they were looking for. Coleman’s spittle-spewing playwright does well with “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

Max and Leo are aided in their efforts by the stunningly blonde and curvaceous bombshell (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) Ulla, well-played by Elizabeth Pawlowski. As the pair’s pragmatic, despite her looks, secretary, Ulla ends up running away with the show in “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.”

Other bright spots in the casting include John West as the flaming “common law ass-istant” to Brad Nacht’s over-the-top director Roger De Bris.

The touring production offers all of Brooks’ clever dialogue and lyrics, although it lacks the overall sparkle of a finely-honed Broadway production. Simon suffered from a crackling microphone when he sings “Betrayed” as he’s parked in a holding cell in a New York City courtroom after Leo runs off with the cash and Ulla. There were a few unnerving points when Robin Wagner’s scenery appears to be on the verge of toppling onto the cast, and the dancing, to Leigh Constantine’s recreation of Susan Stroman’s original choreography, is a few steps short of precise.

At three solid hours, the production loses a little steam after the show-stopping “Springtime for Hitler” number, which is truly ghastly in its deliberate offensiveness.

Still, despite its shortcomings, “The Producers” is a funny, funny show.

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