Gallery Players Celebrates Big Wins, Looks Optimistically to Future

2013 was a banner year for the Jewish Community Center’s Gallery Players, and 2014 is looking just as bright for the longest-running community theater company in the Midwest.

Now in its 65th season, Gallery Players consistently ranked at the top of everyone’s end-of-year “Best of Local Theater” list this past December. Fiddler on the Roof was #6 on Columbus Underground’s list of the Top 20 shows in 2013, and Elijah’s Angel was heralded as one of 2013’s best children’s productions by The Columbus Dispatch.

According to Richard Ades, former The Other Paper theater critic, the Gallery Players and New Players Theater co-production of The Whipping Man was one of 2013’s best productions. On his ColumbusTheater.org blog, he wrote: “If you thought there was no way to come up with a new take on the Civil War, this show proved you wrong. Matthew Lopez’s postwar drama reunited two former slaves with the wounded son of their Jewish master. The fascinating, if imperfect, tale was exquisitely directed by Tim Browning.”

This was all before the annual Theatre Roundtable Awards were given out on January 26, 2014. There, The Whipping Man won the Roundtable award for Best Play Production for last spring’s co-production with New Players Theater of The Whipping Man. For their performance in that play, Christopher Austin and Bryant Bentley won Excellence in Acting (Leading Role in a Play) honors.

For Fiddler on the Roof, which broke all previous Gallery Players box office records, the accolades continued, as the cast of the musical won the award for Best Ensemble and director Mark Mann achieved the honor of Best Director-Musical.

And now, for the first production of 2014, the same director (Mark Mann), music director (Stephanie Stephens), and some of the cast are reuniting to bring the Columbus Jewish community the award-winning Mel Brooks’ classic, The Producers.

“Gallery Players is pretty confident that we can follow up the rousing success of Fiddler on the Roof,” said Joan Fishel, Gallery Players committee chair. “We have the bar set high. I think that Mark Mann was very deserving of winning best director. He really found the deep humanity in every scene. And it’s amazing to watch him now in rehearsals for The Producers. I’m already seeing through his suggestions, blocking, and staging, that it’s going to be even funnier. He has an innate sense of what’s going to make this play work.”

Fishel, who performed as a member of the ensemble cast of Fiddler on the Roof and will also perform in the ensemble for The Producers, drew comparisons between the casts of both the Jewish Community Center’s 100th anniversary musical and its 65th season musical.

“It was a tremendous privilege to be part of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof. There was a great sense of togetherness among the cast. We felt great responsibility to put on a good show. With this cast [of The Producers], you can already feel that same, strong sense of togetherness. But there’s a whole different kind of energy because of course it’s a different kind of show. But as with Fiddler on the Roof, there’s an incredibly talented cast that I’m just thrilled to be a part of,” said Fishel.

Todd Covert who, like Fishel, was a member of the award-winning cast of Fiddler on the Roof, will star as Max Bialystock in The Producers. He agreed with Fishel: “Mark is an incredible director. He approaches directing from being such a great actor. He allows you as an actor to be free and make choices.”

With the same director and some of the same cast, Covert said he looks forward to building on the chemistry and energy the cast enjoyed in Fiddler on the Roof. “You form a bond, and the more work you do together, the better you are together. One of the first shows I did after returning to Columbus was Lost in Yonkers. I just had a great experience. That was my first fall back and actually that was my first show with Mark Mann. So that was my introduction to Gallery Players. I love Jared [Saltman, Gallery Players Managing and Artistic Director], I love the Board over there and all the people there,” he said.

Susan Gellman, who played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and is happy to return to Gallery Players to play Hold Me-Touch Me in The Producers, remembered what a wonderful experience creating an Anatevka for the Columbus Jewish community was. She and her husband, Cantor Jack Chomsky, who played Tevye, hosted Shabbat dinners in their home at which the cast and crew were invited to extend the community off the stage. For Fiddler on the Roof, she said, “We had such a wonderful cast, both in terms of talent and just being such very, very pleasant people. So of course it’s lovely to work with them again.”

Now, for The Producers, she hopes that same, strong feeling of community will continue. “The pressure’s on. Let’s go for four awards with this one!,” Gellman exclaimed.

“I will personally guarantee that every member of the audience will get 100% of the profits,” said Gellman, with a nod to The Producers’ absurd premise in which producer Max Bialystock and his sidekick accountant Leo Bloom promise investors 100% of the profits of a musical they hope will be an utter flop.

But for Gallery Players and audiences of The Producers, the future promises nothing but profit in the form of laughter, fun, and farce.