Tags Posts tagged with "Mel Brooks"

Mel Brooks

Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in a scene from ‘The Producers’
A scene from ‘The Producers’

Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, Studiocanal and Rialto Pictures are celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Producers” by bringing the classic movie to select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day event on Sunday, June 3, and Wednesday, June 6.

The 1967 satirical comedy film stars Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn and Kenneth Mars. The film was Mel Brooks’ directorial debut, and he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In 1996, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the  Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Once the King of the Great White Way, Max Bialystock (Mostel) is reduced to romancing old ladies to finance his next flop show. But when nervous accountant Leopold Bloom (Wilder) surmises that more money could be made from a flop than a hit, the next step is to produce the Busby Berkeleyesque musical “Springtime for Hitler” and to cast stoned-out Flower Child “LSD” (Shawn) in the lead. A surefire flop, or is it?

The special screening also features an interview between TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and Brooks. 

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days; Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale on June 3 at 2 p.m. and June 6 at 7 p.m.; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on June 3 at 2 p.m. and June 6 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Burton Gilliam, center, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’
Burton Gilliam set to host special screening of 1974 classic 

By Kevin Redding

Harrumph harrumph harrumph. On Saturday, April 28, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington invites one and all back to Rock Ridge circa 1874 for a screening of the groundbreaking, controversial and hysterical “Blazing Saddles” more than 44 years after its original release, featuring a very special appearance from one of its stars.  

It was February 1973 when Burton Gilliam, a Dallas, Texas, firefighter of 14 years and a Golden Gloves champion boxer during his time in the Coast Guard, got a phone call from a fast-talking “little ball of energy” from Hollywood he’d never heard of named Mel Brooks. 

Brooks, best known at the time as a staff writer on the Sid Caesar-led variety program “Your Show of Shows,” the co-creator of “Get Smart” and the writer-director of the 1968 film “The Producers,” was offering Gilliam the role of a cowboy in his upcoming film, a then-untitled Western-themed comedy. Gilliam laughed and thanked “Mr. Brooks” before hanging up. 

Just one of his buddies at the fire station putting him on, he thought. “‘Cuz that’s what firemen do to each other,” Gilliam, 79, recalled, laughing.

Months prior, Gilliam, who was 35 at the time, had responded on a whim to an ad in the Dallas newspaper about a local casting call for extras in director Peter Bogdanovich’s film “Paper Moon,” starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. 

Despite having no acting experience, Gilliam showed up with his big old grin and even bigger Texan exuberance. Over the course of a few weeks, he beat out hundreds of people in the audition process and impressed Bogdanovich enough to be given a small speaking part as a desk clerk named Floyd. After filming in St. Joseph, Missouri, wrapped, he returned to Dallas and his job at the fire department, looking forward to the June release of the film and thankful for his brush with movie stardom. 

But that phone rang again 10 minutes after he hung up and it was Brooks once more, explaining that he had seen a rough cut of “Paper Moon” and wanted Gilliam to meet with him to play this part. Gilliam was hesitant to abandon his job and $12,000 a year salary to go to Los Angeles and commit to the film. He wound up meeting with Brooks and producers three times before finally agreeing to come aboard.

“I remember that first time I met [Mel] — this little guy jumped over a desk and ran over to me and jumped into my arms, pushing me against the wall,” Gilliam said. “He was like a koala bear. I had no other thought but to like him. He was so open and funny.”

Between Gilliam’s first and third trip to Hollywood, Brooks and his team expanded his once-tiny role as Lyle, a dim-witted and callous antagonist to the film’s hero Sheriff Bart (played by Cleavon Little), into a much heftier one that sets the stage for the entire film (“What about ‘De Camptown Ladies’?”). 

He received a call of persuasion from Richard Pryor, one of “Blazing Saddles’” many writers, and Brooks promised to pay him his yearly salary at the fire department in the three weeks he’d be filming for, plus overtime.

Burton Gilliam and Slim Pickens

“About four weeks later, I quit the fire department,” said Gilliam, one of 10 members of his family to serve as a fireman. “I was the only one that ever quit. And after I did, everyone came out of the woodwork to tell me how crazy I was. But I went to Hollywood and stayed for 23 years! And what a great 23 years it was.”

Since appearing in Brooks’ 1974 classic, Gilliam has acted in more than 50 films and television shows, including “Fletch” starring Chevy Chase, “Back to the Future Part III,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” with Nicolas Cage, and episodes of “Mama’s Family,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He has also appeared in countless commercials and has even lent his instantly recognizable voice to video games. 

“To me, the most rewarding part has been meeting the people working behind the scenes — the makeup people, the wardrobe, lighting, sound departments,” Gilliam said. “They were all so good to me.”

When he isn’t in front of the camera, Gilliam has become a staple at various charities across the country. 

Through it all, the actor said he never gets tired of answering questions about, and quoting lines from, the movie that made him famous. Although, he admits he never would’ve guessed “Blazing Saddles” would remain so popular and beloved nearly 50 years later, especially one that very clearly could never be made today.

“It’s really a mystery almost that something like this can last this long, and it’s going to last a lot longer,” Gilliam said. “And Mel Brooks is as surprised as anybody that it’s lasted this long. I don’t know what to make of the whole thing. When we did the picture, Mel always said the people at Warner Brothers gave him $3 million and told him to go have a good time. And that’s it right there … it’s something that had never been done before, saying those words and doing those things we did and getting away with it.”

Burton Gilliam as Lyle, right, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’ with Slim Pickens as Taggart

The film, of course, about the arrival of a black sheriff in an over-the-top racist town, is a raunchy (it’s the first film to feature a flatulence scene!), chaotic, uproarious, surreal, wholly politically incorrect and brilliant satire of the western film genre and a no-holds-barred takedown of racism and prejudices. 

In the opening of the film, Gilliam’s character Lyle, joined by his gang of thuggish cowboys, orders a group of black members of a railroad crew, led by Little, to sing a song while they work, saying “When you was slaves, you sang like birds.” Lyle expounds a series of racist comments here, including the N-word, which he recalls made him uncomfortable while filming the scene on set. 

“It was the second week I was there and I had to say those words to about 25 black guys, saying these things that had never been spoken before in movies and that was a bit hard,” Gilliam said. “So after we were on the scene for probably 25 minutes, they were switching cameras for somebody’s close-up, and Cleavon said, ‘Hey let’s take a walk.’ He told me, ‘Listen, I know you’re having a little bit of trouble saying these things but this is a movie and we’re having fun. Be comfortable and call me anything you want to … it’s okay, this is all fun…”

But, Gilliam said, Little warned him, “After they say ‘Cut!,’ if you call me that, we’re gonna go to fist city.’”

Cinema Arts Centre co-director Dylan Skolnick said he considers “Blazing Saddles” one of the funniest movies ever made, and remembers seeing it in theaters when it came out. While it’s been shown at the theater several times, he said he’s excited to have Gilliam emcee the screening.

“Burton’s one of those guys — his name’s not necessarily famous, but when you see him, since he’s been in a lot of movies and things as a character actor, it’s like, ‘Oh! That guy! I love that guy!’” Skolnick said. “It was great to be able to build an event around somebody like him, where he can be the star for the evening … It’s such an iconic movie and he has a crucial scene in one of the most famous moments.”

Gilliam said he’s looking forward to meeting and talking with the fans, and reminiscing about the making of the movie. “I enjoy those things because I get to talk a lot,” Gilliam said, laughing. “And I always get new questions; I have to be on my toes a little bit and I like that.”

As part of its Cult Cafe series, The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will present a special screening of “Blazing Saddles” on April 28 at 9:45 p.m. with a Q&A with Burton “Lyle” Gilliam. Tickets are $15 per person, $12 members. To order, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Photos courtesy of Bobby Bank 

Above, the cast performs a musical number in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

By Kyle Barr

From left, Michael Newman as the blind hermit and Ryan Nolin as the monster in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

Mel Brooks, the director and writer of some of cinema’s most beloved comedy movies, has always had something of a theatrical flair to his films. There have been musical scenes in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “History of the World Part 1” and one glorious moment in “Young Frankenstein” when Frankenstein’s monster replaces his ragged clothing for a tuxedo and top hat and stiffly tap dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

It’s no wonder then that “Young Frankenstein” works so well as a musical stage production. The characters are there, the humor is there, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is more than up to the task of adapting the musical with a performance that emphatically captures the hilarious moments of the original 1974 film.

The story, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks, follows the film very closely with only a few changes. The famous Victor Von Frankenstein, the mad scientist who created the original Frankenstein’s monster, is dead, and the villagers of Transylvania are much happier to see him gone.

Nick Masson as Frederick and Sarah Juliano as Inga in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

While they think their troubles are over, Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Nick Masson), gets a letter that says he has inherited his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania. While he is originally staunch in refusing to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, with the help and coaxing of compatriots Igor (Andrew Murano), Inga (Sarah Jane Juliano) and Frau Blucher (Anne Marie Finnie), Frederick does indeed join the family business. It only takes a few mistakes before the monster (Ryan Nolin) is loose, and the villagers who for once thought they were free of monsters are yet again set upon by a big green menace.

Director and set designer Timothy Golebiewski skillfully leads a number of SCPA regulars along with several stage veterans making their premier at the theater. At last Sunday afternoon’s performance, all of the actors played their parts very well with several standouts.

SCPA veteran Michael Newman gives two excellent performances in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the blind hermit, while Juliano is hilarious as Inga, and her yodeling could give any clog-wearing German a run for their money.

‘Puttin On the Ritz’ at the SCPA.

With the passing of Gene Wilder last year still heavy on the heart, it’s hard to imagine another person portraying Frederick Frankenstein (“It’s pronounced Fronkensteen!”). However, Masson chooses to put a different spin on the iconic role to great effect. He sounds and acts much like everyone remembers their least favorite high school teacher to be, that one with the nasal voice and the rather high opinion of himself. He has a great sense for timing and his beginning song “The Brain,” about his love for the titular organ, is played up to its full bizarre and hilarious extent.

Murano as Igor (“It’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor!”) is a stand out soley for how much he seems to enjoy his role. Costume designer Ronald R. Green III does a superb job on his makeup from the character’s cloak to his deathly-white face and pointed nose.

While Igor is only the sidekick, he often steals the show with how much body language he puts into the jokes. It’s easy to see how Murano revels in the opportunity to touch the other characters in uncomfortable ways. One hilarious scene is when the character gets his hands on another’s fur cloak and chews into it and humps it like a dog.

Nick Masson and Andrew Murano in a scene from ‘Young Frankenstein’

While you originally wouldn’t expect much emoting from Frankenstein’s monster, who for most of the movie can only grunt and howl, Nolin does a great job of using his body language to effect the subtle and often confused emotions of the creature. It’s also great to see how well he transforms into an upstanding gentleman and how he affects an English accent as soon as he’s given intelligence.

The set design is particularly exceptional. Golebiewski and crew must have spent many good hours on setting up the two-tiered layout of the set, which has layers and a surprising amount of depth. It is remarkable to watch just from where different characters appear. Several of the bookcases can be spun around, which is not only used to transition from one parlor scene into a laboratory scene but is also used in one of the more famous jokes from the film where Inga and Frederick try to figure out how to use a secret door hidden in a bookcase.

The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle at the helm, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Michael Molloy on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, bring the whole show together nicely.

One thing to note is that this musical is raunchy, even more raunchy than the film on which it is based. While there are more than a few innuendos, there are many explicit references to sex and private parts, so adults may want to look up the script to the play before bringing young children along.

However, if you don’t mind a bit of sexual humor and you fondly remember the 1974 movie version, you won’t walk away disappointed. If you are looking to grab some of old monster movie nostalgia while watching something that wholly parodies those old horror conventions, you can’t get much better than SCPA’s “Young Frankenstein.”

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Young Frankenstein” through Aug. 20. Tickets are $35, adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun.

Stuart Zagnit as Max Bialystock in a scene from ‘The Producers,’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan     

The musical “The Producers” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last week and did not disappoint. Adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, it tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystock.

Once nicknamed the “King of Broadway,” Bialystock has recently produced a series of turkeys (“…the critics left at intermission”); so he must produce a hit or go broke. His easily swayed, near psychotic auditor Leopold Bloom shows him how to make millions by producing a flop! Both rummage through a pile of manuscripts until they find one entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” extolling the virtues of the Nazi party. Putting this one on had to be a failure! Off they go in search of the author and to find an “angel.”

Stuart Zagnit and Joel Newsome played the hilarious plotters as Max and Leo, respectively. They were so contrasted as the Machiavellian hard-as-nails fixer to the trembling, quivering weaker partner who still carries a piece of his infant security blanket. Both have lively tenor voices — Zagnit the mighty organ,  Newsome the exquisite violin.

Gina Milo, as Ulla the voluptuary, had all the right (and left) moves, topping this panoply of pleasure with a powerful soprano. Her “If You Got It, Flaunt It” number expressed it all.

The two plotters find their author in Franz Liebkind played by John Plumpis — a wacko Nazi in Luftwaffe steel helmet, imitation jackboots and a stick — he is all over the boards intoning a somewhat mangled German accent but coming on quite strong in Act II’s “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” and in Act II’s “Haben Sie  Gehört Das Deutsche Band?”

The gay community is well represented with Roger DeBris, handled smoothly by Ian Knauer, and Carmen Ghia, played languidly by Christopher Sloan. Knauer is well over the two-yard mark, leading one to believe that height was a requisite. Why? Because the height of the lissome female ensemble only added to their beauty, referring to Emily Blake Anderson, Molly Jean Blodgett, Mary Callahan and Laura Otremba. A marvelous performance, especially those kicks.

Choreography was by the ubiquitous and deeply talented Antoniette DiPietropolo with direction by Igor Goldin. DiPietropolo had a massive job on her hands. The cast was large and the ensemble equally so. Yet, as usual, she brought out a clear terpsichorean reality, including one done in walkers. Goldin was similarly charged with clear individualization and interpretation of characters. He succeeded handily.

At this juncture your scribe must reveal his impressions of the show’s music. James Olmstead leads a six-piece outfit featuring the incomparable Joe Boardman on trumpet, the trombones of Brent Chiarello and Frank Hall, Russ Brown on bass, Mark Katz on reeds and Josh Endlich on percussion driving it along.

Boardman has a tone redolent of Charlie Shavers with a whiff of Dizzy Gillespie. The sound of gunshots in Act II was actually rimshots by Endlich. Talk about accurate cuing. In fact, after final curtain this group did a little jamming. Your scribe was loath to leave his seat so much was he enjoying a trip down 52nd Street in the late forties.

This was a beautifully mounted production — something the Engeman is quite good at.

The John W. Engeman Theater will present “The Producers” through July 12. Tickets are $69. For more information, please call the box office at 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Social

9,193FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,127FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe