A Year with the Producers: One Actor's Exhausting (But Worth It) Journey from Cats to Mel Brooks' Mega-Hit

A Year with the Producers: One Actor's Exhausting (But Worth It) Journey from Cats to Mel Brooks' Mega-Hit

by Jeffry Denman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780878301546
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 02/22/2002
Pages: 204
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.43(d)

About the Author

Buffalo-born Jeffry Denman, currently in The Producers, has also appeared in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed, the Johnny Mercer musical Dream, as Munkustrap in Cats, and on PBS's Great Performances My Favorite Broadway. He has also choreographed Naked Boys Singing! and is developing his own show, Dancing in the Dark, for New York.

Read an Excerpt

First Full Cast Day

Monday, December 11:
Okay. While there are some things in the script that I think need work, I have never laughed so hard at a read-thru in my life. I don't know where to start. I think for me the most exciting part of the day is when Mel came up to me and shook my hand and told me, "We've got a lot for you to do. We're very happy we got you. Lots for you to do, Jeffry Denman." He kept calling me by both my names. He was doing that with everyone. He is incredibly charming and funny. He's like your favorite uncle at the family picnic. Matthew was happy to see me. We spoke about the fact that every musical he's done on Broadway I've been in. Okay, okay, so he's only done two. I'm looking forward to watching him work again. I find him fascinating. Still no word on the understudy front. The guy from 60 Minutes was there, Mike Wallace. Wanted to ask him about the whole big tobacco scandal but thought better of it. They were filming our read-thru. That was weird. This thing better be good, because the eyes of the world are on us.

They are apparently going to be doing a special segment on us when we open, so they'll be filming rehearsals and performances in Chicago and New York. Yeek. Robin Wagner's set looks fun and surprisingly funny. I didn't think a set could be funny. The rest of the songs sound great. Really great. They are good old-fashioned Broadway musical comedy. And the lyrics are hysterical. There are homages to about fifteen different shows. There is a whole "Rose's Turn" (from Gypsy) section in Max's 11:00 number that had everybody pissing their pants. Glen Kelly has arranged the songs and has put them perfectly in line with Matthew's voice. He sounds so great. Gary Beach is a hoot as Roger DeBris. I'm such a fan of his. Not sure about Cady Huffman. I've never seen her in anything, so I don't have much to go on. Plus, I don't think her part is as fleshed out as it needs to be. But I'm not going to judge from a read-thru. Roger Bart remembers me from putting the How to Succeed tour together. He's very friendly and asks how I've been and all that. Ron Orbach is super nice too. I tell him that I liked him in Laughter on the 23rd Floor. It was on of the first plays I saw when I came to the city. We comment on the fact that in that show he portrayed the Mel Brooks character. Not so sure about his first song, "Guten Tag Hop Clop." They (Max, Leo, and Franz) apparently do a Bavarian slap folk dance. Seems a little forced to me. They have to dance in order to get him to sign a contract? We must be in a musical!

There's also a song in the second act called "It's Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Op'ning Night." This also feels a bit forced. One of those we have a lot of people changing costumes, so we need a song here situations. The rest of the songs work well and come out of the show cleanly. This one seems a bit clunky.

The thing that got me most today was Max and Leo's final song. It's called "Till Him." Matthew sang it so softly and understated, I thought I was going to cry. Started laughing instead. The lyrics are perfect. Even though the movie is brilliant, "Till Him" seems to capture the friendship that Max and Leo share for each other a little bit better. The melody delicately bounces up and down and then soars at the bridge, just like a good song should. "He filled up my empty life. Filled it to the brim." I'm laughing (read: crying). It seems like a perfect ending. I hope it doesn't get cut.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Matthew Broderick        ix
I Have an Audition 1
The Callback 9
Cats, Backstage 12
The Closing 16
A Road Not Taken 27
Leo Bloom Understudy Audition 30
First Costume Fitting 33
First Day of Rehearsal 34
Satan Enters My Body 39
End of the First Week 43
First Full Cast Day 46
Week Two 48
Understudy Assignments 52
Week Three 53
Trying Things Out 62
Reality Sets In 64
Producer Run-Thru 66
Invited Dress 68
Chicago 70
Sitzprobe 78
First Preview - Chicago 83
Opening Night in Chicago 98
Final Show in Chicago 104
Home Again - New York 105
The Cast Recording 109
Dress Run 113
First Preview - New York 114
Opening Night 116
Fifteen 122
Tony, Tony, Tony, Tonyyyyyy 127
Feeling a Little "Bookish" 137
The Documentary Screening 140
Character Assassinations 157
Three Days to Go 161
One Day to Go 164
The Last Entry 166
Acknowledgments 186


When you're in a show like The Producers, you're a part of something so full of energy that it isn't always easy to take a step back and see how you - and it - got there. Jeff Denman had the good idea of keeping a journal - something many of us wish we had done and hardly ever take the time to do.

Jeff and I worked together in my first Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I didn't see a lot of him, though, because he was an offstage understudy, what we call a swing. Now we're on the same stage in The Producers. I play Leo Bloom opposite Nathan Lane's Max Bialystock. And Jeff? Jeff plays a blind violinist, a terrible choreographer, a little old lady in a walker, FDR, a guy auditioning to play the Führer in "Springtime for Hitler," and a Nazi or two. Not a lot of lines, but a lot of work.

I've never been in the ensemble of a Broadway show. As Leo Bloom, I've got to have a big picture. But the ensemble is about having a lot of little pictures and making them all fit into the frame. Reading Jeff's account of how The Producers got put together I'm reminded of what is too easy to forget. I'm thinking, for example, of how tough it was to get that blanket drop right in the Leo-Ulla scene in act two (note to Jeff: the trick is in the way Leo puts the blanket into his pocket a few minutes earlier). So much effort goes into a routine we try to make the audience think is second nature. If you read what Jeff has to say about a few seconds on stage as FDR, you'll see what I mean. All big shows work this way. The Producers is no exception. Jeff's year begins with Cats, a show he joined in its final Broadway life. It ends when he goes on one weekend for, er, me as Leo Bloom. He's proud of getting that blue blanket drop in all four performances. He should be. Jeff doesn't say it's his favorite year, but he comes close. Anyone who has been in an ensemble or an audition will recognize Jeff's story. Anyone who has seen a Broadway show and wondered how it gets put together will enjoy the backstage view. Like everyone else in the theater, Jeff's love of performing gets him on stage. I think that comes through on the pages that follow. I hope you'll enjoy reading them. And see a Broadway show soon.

Matthew Broderick
December 2001

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