‘Keep it Gay’ with ‘The Producers’
Openly gay performer Gary Beach estimates he has played the role of Roger DeBris in the musical “The Producers” somewhere around 1,700 times — not consecutively, but here and there over the years. He reprises the role again for a special Atlanta engagement, courtesy of Theater of the Stars, beginning next week.
Mel Brooks’ comedy, last staged in Atlanta eight years ago, is adapted from his 1968 film. In it, Broadway producer Max Bialystock – fresh off of an unsuccessful production – comes up with a scheme with his sidekick, laid back accountant Leo Bloom.
They plan to intentionally stage the biggest stage flop of all time and bilk millions out of their financial backers, using the worst director in New York. Said director is flamboyant, gay Roger DeBris, who wants to camp up the show and rewrite history so that Germans win WWII. What Max and Leo don’t anticipate is that the new production is a huge success.
The musical swept the Tony Awards in 2001, setting a record for wins with 12. Beach won a Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Musical.
He feels “The Producers” has held up because of the humor.
“People love to laugh,” he says. “It’s very healing to hear that laughter.” The characters are also well drawn. “I love Roger,” he says. “He is the most bizarre character. I think I’ve lived Roger’s dream by doing this”
The Producers” has a major gay theme, something the actor has always loved and admired. The first act’s number “Keep It Gay,” Roger’s over-the-top song with his assistant Carmen, is perhaps the gayest thing found in musical theater. According to Beach, it has to be done that way.
“When it’s not done that way, it is offensive,” he says. “If it’s done right, it can be funny as hell.”
Some people find it a little garish but he laughs that that is what funnyman Mel ‘The Producers’ Jan. 25 – 31 Fox Theatre 660 Peachtree St. Atlanta, GA 30308 www.theaterofthestars.com ‘Visiting Mr. Green’ Jan. 25 – Feb. 17 Stage Door Players 339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road Dunwoody, GA 30338 www.stagedoorplayers.net Brooks envisioned.
“The Producers” plays well wherever it is staged, but a theater manager told Beach while he was touring with it that after the gay moment, a religious family got on the floor and literally prayed.
“He said it was like they had seen the devil,” Beach laughs.
The show ran for six years on Broadway and Beach was on and off during that time. He was asked to revisit the role at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles last year and he agreed, although his agent had to convince him. It was for three performances only. When he was asked to be part of the revival here, he agreed as well, although he is not interested in another tour.
Beach said he stopped touring because it’s not the same as when he started decades ago.
“These days a tour is usually a week here and then it’s on to a new city,” he says. “If I were 25, I am sure I would love that. But I am not – I am older.”
The performer actually got his professional start in Atlanta. He was in the chorus of “Camelot” back in 1968 and has fond memories of that gig. He also teamed in a tour here of “Legends” with two real legends – Mary Martin and Carol Channing.
Beach is also known for appearances onstage in “Beauty and the Beast,” “Les Miserables” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”
He hasn’t performed in Atlanta for a while, but he and his partner went on a road trip recently and spent some here time, taking in a lot of restaurants.
They two live in Florida and Beach, who grew up in Virginia, loves the quietness and the weather — and doesn’t miss the frantic pace of the big city.
‘Visiting Mr. Green’
Kicking off its new year at Stage Door Players is “Visiting Mr. Green,” a comedy-drama written by Jeff Baron.
When an elderly widower is almost hit in traffic, the young man driving is given community service to visit the widower.
At first they find some common ground but their relationship is threatened when the young man reveals he is gay.
Directed by openly gay Alan Kilpatrick, the production stars Chad Martin and the great Theo Harness.
Gay actor reprises his Tony-winning role as flamboyant director DeBris as Theater of the Stars brings ‘The Producers’ to Atlanta. (Courtesy photos)