It's a scam

Barnstormers take stage with outrageous, irreverent farce, 'The Producers'

Special to the Union Leader
June 27. 2018 1:22PM
“The Producers” finds boisterous fallen Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his nervous accountant, Leo Bloom, scheming to lure investors into backing a stage show. Their plan is to produce a flop and then keep the investors’ money. But against all odds, it’s a hit — an irreverent, outrageous smash. 
If you go...
WHAT: 'The Producers'

WHERE: The Barnstormers Theatre, 104 Main St., Tamworth

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. (Performances will continue July 3 and July 5-7)

TICKETS:; 323-8500

Breaking a leg is no laughing matter unless, of course, one is talking about the stage or “The Producers,” this summer season’s first production at The Barnstomers Theatre in Tamworth.

An adaptation of the Broadway musical by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, “The Producers” is about two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich.

“It’s a very irreverent statement about the nature of American musical theater,” said the show’s director, Bob Shea, who has been The Barnstormers in varying capacities for 38 years. “Mel Brooks had the authority to satirize it and present a parody on it ... It allows people to look at the vulnerability of the art form and the silliness of it. It’s a spectacular musical and comedy.”

Adapted from Brooks’s 1967 film of the same name, “The Producers” ran for more than 2,500 performances on Broadway and won a record 12 Tony Awards. It also led to a London production, several U.S. and U.K. tours, and a 2005 film version that brought Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick from Broadway applause to big-screen laughs.

But the real story may be The Barnstomers itself, which is one of the oldest professional summer theaters in the United States, said Shea. It was founded in 1931 by Francis Cleveland (the youngest son of President Grover Cleveland) and his wife Alice and friend Ed Goodnow — all of whom were involved with theater on Broadway.

The Barnstormers’ rich history is not just a footnote for Shea.

“I was close friends with Francis,” he said. “President Cleveland had his home here. Francis was my mentor. He was a professional on Broadway in the 1930s and a real up-and-coming professional man when they came here in 1931.”

Francis served as artistic director until his death in 1995. Even the name of the theater has a story behind it, Shea said, adding the Barnstormers began without having an actual venue. During the summer, the group would lead a company of resident actors around the region and sometimes literally storm barns.

“For six years, they did not have a permanent home and performed in a five-town circuit,” he said. “They then bought a store in the center of the village and transformed it into a regular professional summer playhouse. It’s the same playhouse (used) today.”

It is not just the venue itself that intrigues Shea or visitors, as the actors who perform there aren’t what might be expected in a more remote, rural corner of the state.

Located just below the White Mountain National Forest, Tamworth has a year-round population of slightly less than 3,000. In the summer, however, the town is home to professional actors and others from cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“It is a professional theater, a union company,” Shea said. “The standards are very high here. Actors do not just join the union; they are invited.

“There is just a maturity about the work,” he added. “You are seeing people who have dedicated their lives to be professional actors. They have made huge sacrifices to do it.”

“The Producers” is an iconic musical comedy farce about two producers intent on swindling funds by purposely making a Broadway flop. But it’s a surprise hit, and no one is more surprised that its creators.

Though the show is outrageous in spirit, Shea said he approached “The Producers” with artistic restraint.

“I just want the actors to be empowered to have the artistic freedom and prerogative to interpret it for themselves through their humanity, their voice and their physicality,” he said. “People have their preconceptions about it through Lane and Broderick. I want the actors to give the story its own unique Barnstormer life.”

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