Sunday, October 20, 2002

`Producers' first shot at being the star



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"True story," says Lee Roy Reams. Broadway vet and Covington native Mr. Reams has lots of true stories from a few decades on Broadway, in shows from Hello, Dolly! to 42nd Street, but this one happens to be about his Producers' co-star Angie Schworer, from Fort Mitchell.

The Producers, Tony-est winning musical of all time and starring Lewis Stadlen, Don Stephenson, Mr. Reams and Ms. Schworer, takes up residence at the Aronoff Center on Tuesday for a three-week run.

"So here's the scuttlebutt," Mr. Reams dishes on a conference call that included Ms. Schworer. "You were in the ensemble, an understudy . . ."

"I was second cover," Ms. Schworer amended, meaning that she was sort of the main understudy's standby. "I've always understudied. Roxy in Chicago, Patsy in Crazy for You..."

"And the first cover was on vacation . . . " Mr. Reams continued.

"She had a virus," corrected Ms. Schworer.

But the happy ending stays the same. While the Tony-winning star was on vacation it was Angie Schworer who performed Scandinavian sexpot Ulla "for 61/2 performances" on Broadway.

Six and a half? The understudy tried to come back but only made it through half of the show. Serendipitously, one of the halves was seen by the show's creator Mel Brooks.

"No one else was considered for the part (for the national tour)," Mr. Reams finished firmly. "No matter what you see on stage and in the movies, seldom do understudies ever inherit the role."

"It only took 11 years, seven Broadway shows and three national tours to get here," laughs Ms. Schworer.

But here it comes. The Producers opens Tuesday at the Aronoff's Procter & Gamble Hall for a three-week run. I, for one, would be happy to watch it every night.

Both Northern Kentucky natives have big, BIG roles. She's the oo-la-la love interest, he's Roger deBris, the gayer-than-gay director that Bialystock and Bloom, the crooked producers of the title, hope will take their musical-within-a-musical, Springtime for Hitler, down in flames.

Ms. Schworer and Mr. Reams have performed on the same stage once before. Both are alums of the Robert Ziegler School of Dance and both returned for a gala performance honoring Mr. Ziegler's 50 years teaching.

"I've known about Lee Roy my whole life," says Ms. Schworer, "even though I didn't know him. For some reason he's like home to me."

Speaking of home, "We can't wait to get to Cincinnati," they chorused from Cleveland. Both will be visiting family while they're here and Ms. Schworer laughed that maybe she and Lee Roy would have to slip away for some Skyline.

You can meet them when they debut the Enquirer's Footlights series on Nov. 4. Join Mr. Reams, Ms. Schworer, folks from Cincinnati stage and me for backstage dish (and a fab buffet) at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at Nicola's Ristorante (Sycamore at Liberty). Admission $35. For reservations call Nicola's at 721-6200. For information call me at 768-8530.

Bengals aren't history: I offer some cold comfort for Bengals fans. While it hurts now, societies - and cities - aren't remembered long-term for their pro sports scores, they're remembered for their culture. (Come on, we know ancient Greece conceived the Olympics, but who remembers who won? What we honor now is the ideal, to say nothing of the art, architecture and mythic theater that rose from that civilization.)

So if you're too mad or depressed to talk football, check out the action on local stages. Nobody's keeping score, but there are a lot of winners out there.

`Detective' Phelps: As musical director of Promenade, the legendary, rarely seen '60s musical by Irene Fornes and Al Carmines, Matt Phelps, a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, knew he wanted to talk to acclaimed playwright Ms. Fornes.

Promenade, a social satire that doesn't remotely resemble the other musicals of the period (like Hello, Dolly!) is a cartoon-like send up of clueless "haves" versus "have nots."

"You'd want to talk to her, too" Mr. Phelps laughs. He was especially curious about the creators' process, and about what they were trying to do. First he took the proper publisher/agent route and when that didn't pan out, he just looked her up in the Manhattan White Pages.

Ms. Fornes answered the phone and they had a hospitable chat, although Ms. Fornes' '60s credo clearly still runs deep. Don't analyze, she advised. Just do it. Let it be what it is.

"She's a crazy woman," he says, meaning it in the nicest possible way. "I'd love to meet her in person some day."

Mr. Phelps will music direct and provide piano accompaniment for all the studio musicals this year and says he's the luckiest guy in the musical theater department. After this week's limited engagement of Promenade, there's A New Brain and Songs for a New World..

CCM Studio performances are free and the tickets disappear within hours of becoming available. The box office, 556-4183, opens Monday morning. Call early.

Rising in Middletown: Rising Phoenix is Middletown is bustling with activity.

John Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men opens Thursday and continues through Nov. 3. Adam Ziemkiewicz and Brian Kidd are featured as itinerant workers George and Lennie.

Meanwhile, Matt Slaybaugh has been tapped to direct Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World in March.

Rising Phoenix exec director Christine Brunner met him when they were both studying at Miami University.

"The last thing he directed in our class took place in a ladies' bathroom in the basement of one of the really old buildings on campus. He had the audience sit on the counters and sinks. The actors appeared above and below the stalls and he rigged lights in the toilets in different colors, so when flushed they made weird stuff happen."

No wonder Ms. Brunner thought he could handle the reflective, cabaret style revue. She'll be among the cast.

For information on all of the above and reservations for Of Mice and Men call the box office at (513) 705-4131.

Hot 'lanta: They don't call it Hot 'lanta for nothing. Cincinnati's arts marketing campaign dubbed "Festival" of the New planned for next summer and fall, will be a fraction as festive as First Glance Atlanta, which runs through Nov. 3.

The Atlanta folks have cool stuff on almost three dozen stages, including midnight showings of hip puppetry shows and the Red Clay Ramblers accompanying the Atlanta Ballet in a new work, many parties and an opening weekend of interactive educational experience.

Regular folks are learning to tango, hip-hop and tap with the ballet, writing short performance pieces, learn improv, go behind the scenes and lots more.

The thinking, says First Glance producer Lisa Mount, is "if people get to get their feet wet and fingers dirty, if we give lay persons the chance to try this stuff out, that's the way to build a long-term audience."

While partners include Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, Ms. Mount says the festival couldn't have happened without Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, which leads the city in the mantra "cultural tourism, cultural tourism, cultural tourism."

Atlanta's Convention & Visitors Bureau crows that eight of its regional tourism campaigns have generated $365 million in economic impact.

This first year (Ms. Mount and company are already planning for the next fest in 2004, which they hope will include commissions of new work) the budget is $330,000.

"If you have a fire in the belly and enough people persevere, it's amazing what can happen!" says Ms. Mount.

The first First Glance is aimed straight at Greater Atlanta. The plan, she says, "is to hook Atlanta audiences first and use them to get visitors. We want to get Atlantans to go someplace they haven't been, we're saying "don't be afraid, it's not hard or scary, it's fun!"

For more information on First Glance, visit www.firstglanceatlanta.com.

`Play On': Congratulations to Loveland Stage Company, raising the curtain on the renovated Crist Theater on Friday with a performance of Play On!

The Crist (111 S. Second St., Olde Loveland) has been more than two years in the making. The comedy, about a theater group struggling to put on a show as the author madly rewrites, continues weekends through Nov. 9. Tickets: 683-6707.

Meetings: Arts advocates, mark your calendars: the quarterly town meeting on the arts is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at Xavier University's Gallagher Center theater, and the next meeting of City Council's arts and culture committee will be 4 p.m. Oct. 24 in Council chambers.

A call to volunteers to help with advocacy (even if it's just stamping envelopes) will be on the town meeting agenda. The council committee's agenda will include presentations by Cincinnati Museum Center, Park Board and League of Cincinnati Theatres; an update on the town meeting by Arts Advocacy Initiative's Cathy Springfield and a progress report from recipients of last year's arts capital grants.

E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com