Meet Ulla, Roger, and Franz of ‘The Producers’ at South County High School: Cara Bachman, Kyle McKnight, and Jack Gereski

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South County High School opens its production of Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s Tony Award-winning musical The Producers tonight. The Producers concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a surefire Broadway flop. Complications arise when the worst show they can find, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, turns out to be absurdly successful. In part 2: meet some of the zaniest inhabitants of The Producers, including Cara Bachman (the Swedish bombshell Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson hired to be the secretary/receptionist), Kyle McKnight (flamboyant Roger De Bris, the worst director in New York), and Jack Gereski (Franz Liebkind-the ex-Nazi who wrote Springtime for Hitler and is hired to play Hitler in the musical).

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Cara: My name is Cara Bachman. I play Ulla and I’m a junior. I’ve done lots of plays and musicals, maybe 10 or 12. Favorite roles…… I love all of them for what they are and for very different reasons, but they all mean something very special to me. Before The Producers, I played Cosette at Reston Community Players’ Les Misérables.

Ethan Schulze (Max Bialystock), Cara Bachman (Ulla), and Cameron Powell (Leo Bloom). Photo by Diane Jackson Schnoor.
Ethan Schulze (Max Bialystock), Cara Bachman (Ulla), and Cameron Powell (Leo Bloom). Photo by Diane Jackson Schnoor.

Kyle:  My name is Kyle McKnight and I’m a sophomore at South County High School. I play Roger De Bris in The Producers, a gay, strong opinionated director and aspiring Broadway star. Including this musical, I’ve been involved in 5 shows from 8th grade to now. My first and probably one of my favorite roles was that of the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. It was a very loud and comical role and it was a really fun first experience for me.

Jack: My name is Jack Gereski. I will be playing Franz Liebkind. I am a junior and this is my third musical with South County. Last year, I played Harold Hill in South County’s production of The Music Man. The Producers will be my fifth musical.

Why did you want to be in this production and play the character you are playing? What do you admire or not admire about your character?

Cara: What drew me to this production initially is how different it is. It’s a stark contrast from anything South County has ever done, and I think we’re really lucky to be able to undertake this totally wildly exciting new type of project. I think it will open a lot of doors for us as a program and gives the students an incredible chance to learn a lot. It’s fresh, it’s raunchy, its humor draws from shock value, and it’s just an incredible show.

I wanted to play this character because (I sound like a broken record) it’s just something completely unlike any I’ve ever done before. On a personal level, this has advanced my abilities as a performer by leaps and bounds and given me a chance to discover an entirely new side of myself which will carry into future endeavors. My favorite thing about Ulla is her confidence, I think because it’s something I struggle with most as a person. I admire her. I love that she’s just not afraid to be the person she wants to- she’s not ashamed of who she is, and that’s what makes her so sexy! She’s like this independent fierce confident woman with this extremely feminine presence and, at her core, a beautiful heart.

Kyle: I wasn’t too familiar with this show by the time auditions rolled around so I didn’t have a particular character in mind. Each role had its perks and fun scenes so it was really hard to be cast as a bad role. I was very pleased receiving the role of Roger because it’s a role not many get to play. I mean, come on, I get to wear a dress. The character is very flexible and it’s near impossible to go too over the top with him.

Kyle McKnight (Roger De Bris). Photo by Penny Glackin.
Kyle McKnight (Roger De Bris). Photo by Penny Glackin.

Jack: Franz Liebkind is a challenging part in the show, and I love a good challenge. First of all, Franz has a heavy, but comical, German accent. That took a long time to work on to make the words authentic, understandable, and comical. Franz is a Nazi who is a little too in love with Hitler. Franz is probably the most controversial character in the show if not played correctly. There is a certain pressure with this character due to the fine line between comedy and offensiveness with this character.

What did you perform in your audition and when did you find out that you had the role?

Cara:  I performed “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. I didn’t find out I had the role until after several days of long callbacks. They were extremely thorough with the casting of this show, and I think that really shows.

Kyle: For my audition, I prepared a piece called ‘No Other Way’ from Tarzan. I felt like it was a good song vocally as well as being able to act within it. I found out I was cast two days later after callbacks.

Jack: I performed with “Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I found out about my part 4 days after auditions began.

What are your solos or ‘big numbers’ and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing these songs?

Cara: The first song Ulla sings is her number “When You Got It, Flaunt It”- this is when we are first introduced to Ulla as audience members and we learn about her confidence and her sex appeal, which also establishes her relationship with Max and Leo. This is the first time we meet Ulla, and it cements her place in the story as the sort of “sexpot” if you will. She draws the audience in here. Her next number is “That Face,” her duet with Leo. At its surface, this IS something of a cutesy, comedic little song, but from the standpoint of being Ulla, it feels like so much more. I like to think of it this way- all of Ulla’s life, men have followed her around and ogled her body, taken advantage of her, diminished her- sort of like a Marilyn Monroe type thing- and here is this sweet guy, not letting himself go near her and simply going on about her eyes, and her smile, and her cheeks- and I think this is the first time Ulla’s ever been treated this way by a man, and she starts to develop genuine strong feelings for him. This is when they confront and give into their feelings for each other.

Kyle: My two main songs are “Keep It Gay” and “Springtime for Hitler.” Just from hearing the names you can tell Roger is quite the character. During “Keep It Gay,” you learn Roger has visions of what he wants the show to be like and that he will stop at nothing to make it just that. And if it wasn’t clear, you learn that he’s gay. “Springtime for Hitler” is Rogers chance to be a star on Broadway. He takes the role of Hitler and transforms him into a flamboyant and happy dictator.

Jack: My big numbers are “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” and “Haben Sie Gehurt das Deutches Band?” It is revealed that I have a goofy and not realistic view of reality. The songs are so random that it proves that Franz is slightly insane.

What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role?

Cara: I don’t even know where to begin. Ulla is grossly unlike anything I’ve ever done- ESPECIALLY unlike the role I finished playing not one week before I was cast, Cosette in Reston Players’ Les Misérables. I’ve never been much (any) of a sexpot, nor am I much of a belter or a dancer. The entire thing was really rough and a huge process for me. It’s just completely outside of my type. I just had to learn to let go of any inhibitions.

Kyle: I think the biggest challenge was finding continuity for how gay I was to act. It’s portrayed that I’m the dominant and masculine partner in Carmen’s and my relationship, so I thought I couldn’t be too over the top and feminine with the role. I had to find just the right balance of gay/drag queen/director/aspiring actor/unfaithful boyfriend.

Jack: Some of the challenges I’ve had are the accent and understanding the character. We had an embarrassing moment during our school’s pep rally where we performed my first scene which involves the use of Swastikas. Because the mics went out, the audience lost the context of the show and began to be offended by it, understandably so. However, minus that small bump, Franz is an exciting character to play.

 Jack Gereski (Franz Liebkind). Photo by Penny Glackin.
Jack Gereski (Franz Liebkind). Photo by Penny Glackin.

What do you love most about The Producers?

Cara: Everything. I love the humor. I think my favorite thing would be this elaborate set of incredibly strong characters- they weave together to make a story that is constantly entertaining. I just don’t know if you will ever find a show with such an extravagant set of people- you have a Nazi, a flamboyantly gay team of directors, a lecherous producer, a mousy accountant, a raunchy blonde sexpot, sex driven grandmas, and so much more. You just wind up falling in love with all of them, they all make such a strong impression.

Kyle: The thing I love most about The Producers is that there is no dull role. Anybody who’s in the show is bound to have fun between the songs, the dances and the costumes.

Jack: I love the comedy in this show. Mel Brooks is hilarious, and when done right, The Producers is one of the greatest shows around.

What character that you are not playing is your favorite and what song that you are not singing is your favorite, and why?

Cara: I may have to say Roger with the song “Heil Myself”- the actor playing Roger is faced with the difficult task of taking lyrics written by an actual Nazi, and portraying them as satirical to make the story work. He has to be able (and has the fun privilege) to play arguably history’s most despised figure as just this flaming self-centered showman, and I just think that concept is hysterical. I love the way Mel Brooks just attacks these sensitive issues head on without any restraint. The song’s a show stealer, no doubt. I think it’s my favorite part of the show.

Kyle: My favorite character other than Roger would be Max and the song of his that’s my favorite is “Betrayed”. This is my favorite song because it’s unlike any other song I’ve heard in a show because it recaps the entire play and every song in reprise form.

Jack: I wish I could play Roger De Bris because he has the most entertaining part of the show. Also, he is in two of my favorite songs, “Springtime for Hitler” and “Keep it Gay..

What is the best advice your director and musical director gave you about shaping your performance?

Cara: Something that Ms. (Kathie) McCormally (the director) has helped me so much with is to give myself over to the character- really and truly become her. I tend to just retreat back to being Cara when I’m struggling with a character, or not going all of the way with it. Throughout this whole process she has nudged me to stop defaulting to myself. I cannot thank her enough for that. My music director (Jennifer Willard) helped shape my voice into what it has become for this show- I came into The Producers as this lyrical soprano, just fresh out of playing Cosette, and she helped me to train my voice to become something entirely different. She took my voice out of the box it was in, and in that, made my portrayal of Ulla who she is.

Kyle McKnight (Roger-in Dress Center)and cast members performing "Springtime  for Hitler.' Photo by DIane Schnoor.
Cast members performing “Springtime for Hitler.’ Photo by Diane Jackson Schnoor.

Kyle: The best advice I got for my role was ‘You can never have too much fun with this.’ which I got from our choreographer, Ms. (Amy) Hard. Once I realized I was basically free to just have fun, it really made the role more enjoyable.

Jack:   The best advice I’ve received is to have fun and try my hardest. Franz is not as demanding as Harold Hill was last year, but I came to the part with the same intensity.

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing The Producers?

Cara: I think the best lessons that The Producers can teach is not to take life too seriously, to not be afraid to be yourself, to allow yourself to love, and to live the life you want to lead. The musical is hysterical and fun, but upon deeper inspection can definitely carry a real message hidden in the wonderful story. Most importantly, this show should teach you to never ever give Max Bialystock your money.

Kyle: I really just want the audience to love the show as much as the cast does. Everybody worries about how inappropriate and offensive it is, so I really hope the audience can let go of that for this show.

Jack: I want the audience to have laughed so hard that they’ll remember seeing our show. This show is fantastic and I’m hoping we can get the audience to love the show as much as we do.

South County High School’s production of The Producers is directed by Kathie McCormally, music directed by Jennifer Willard, and choreographed by Amy Hard.

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The Producers plays May 2nd, 3rd, 9th, and 10th at 7:00 p.m. at South County High School – 8501 Silverbrook Road, in Lorton, VA. Tickets can be purchased online, and are available at the door.

LINK
‘Meet The Producers’ at South County High School: Part 1: Cameron Powell and Ethan Schulze.

 

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Diane Jackson Schnoor
Diane Jackson Schnoor is delighted to be back in the DC metro area after nearly two decades away. She earned her BA at The American University, with a minor in theatre arts, and holds a master's and doctorate in elementary education from the University of Virginia. A lifelong devotee of the arts, Diane's reviews and arts feature stories have been published in The Millbrook Independent and DC Metro Theatre Arts. As an actress, Diane has performed with the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, the Fort Bragg Playhouse, TriArts Sharon Playhouse, and in musicals and dance shows in Millbrook, NY, Amenia, NY, and Lakeville, CT. Her day job career has run the gamut from adjunct college faculty to preschool director to public relations director and back again, but her primary occupation these days is as chauffeur to the two young actresses who inhabit her home in Winchester, VA.