A little mincing never hurt anyone – especially in a smash hit musical
Stuart Marland steps into role as flamboyant director – and into the hearts of theatergoers
It is not often that an actor steps into a major role in the middle of a tour and immediately gets rave reviews, but that’s what’s been happening to Stuart Marland ever since he joined the national touring production of “The Producers” only two short months ago.
“I’m one of the newcomers,” the handsome actor recently told BTL from Chicago, where the hit comedy is currently appearing before it moves to Detroit Dec. 2 for a much anticipated run at the Masonic Temple Theatre. “It’s a brilliant show, it’s a big hit and our audiences are loving it.”
Marland, who plays flamboyant stage director Roger DeBris, comes to the Mel Brooks’ comedy with a wealth of experience in musical theater. He made his Broadway debut in “Cyrano – the Musical” and spent three years in the Broadway production of “Jekyll & Hyde.” He also toured in the musicals “Seussical the Musical,” “Evita,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Ragtime,” “The King and I” and “Tommy.”
But nothing in his professional background prepared him for what he faces each night in “The Producers.”
“This is quite different from what I’ve been cast in before,” Marland said. “This is an old-style musical comedy, but with contemporary sensibilities. I’ve done a lot of more serious musical work, so this is a treat for me. It’s something for me to sink my teeth into.”
It’s also a physically challenging show.
“It’s really hard work for me to get the timing, it’s so technical. It works like a well-oiled machine. It’s high comedy, so we have to be at the top of our game all the time.”
Although Marland learned last December that the job was coming his way, the actor didn’t start rehearsals until two weeks prior to joining the show in Milwaukee on Oct. 1.
“I was really lucky: I got to work with the dance supervisor and music supervisor from New York. We also have a resident director here on the road whose job is to keep the show maintained and to put new people in the show. I had one rehearsal with the full cast, and I’d say about two or three rehearsals with the understudies and swings – that means lots of people playing lots of different parts,” he said.
The hard work obviously paid off: His performance received rave notices right from the very start.
“It’s a fantastic company,” Marland said. “I’m really happy to be here.”
The San Diego native didn’t always want to pursue theater as a career; he originally went to UCLA with the idea of becoming an architect. It was his academic advisors, however, that counseled him to pursue his dream.
“My love was the theater,” he recalled.
So after graduating with a degree in theater, Marland followed the traditional path many young thespians take when starting their careers in the business.
“I was an entertainer at Disneyland, and then I started on cruise ships, did summer stock and touring companies.”
Marland’s life took a short detour, however, when he became a talent agent.
“I felt I wanted to be in more control of my life,” Marland reflected. “Three years into that I realized that if I worked as hard for myself as I did for my clients, I could have a career.”
That career blossomed in 1993, thanks to the Broadway opening of “Cyrano – the Musical.”
“It’s hard work, it’s being prepared, it’s being in the right place at the right time. And it’s who you know!”
It’s also what you wear. At least as far as his role in “The Producers” is concerned.
“I happen to be a man who wears a dress [in the show], and my partner happens to be my mincing, common-law assistant,” Marland stated.
Marland’s character, Roger DeBris, is a flamingly gay director who is hired to stage a production that is sure to bomb: “Springtime for Hitler.” Instead of an historical drama, DeBris stages an hysterically gay musical farce – and the show becomes a smash hit.
Brooks’ script initially took hits from the politically correct who found the over-the-top portrayal of the gay couple offensive. Marland, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“Everybody is stereotyped and made fun of in this show,” the actor pointed out. “Gay people, the Swedish bombshell, old ladies, Jewish people and even the Nazis get raked over the coal. Mel Brooks even makes fun of himself in the show.”
What pleases Marland the most is this: Audiences are treated to a gay couple who are very much in love with each other.
“You’re seeing a partnership on stage – you’re seeing two people who are married. We are a couple moving forward in life together, even though we bicker, we argue, we tease and we mince – or whatever we do on stage.”
And what’s more, according to Marland, the audience eats it up.
“What I find amazing are the little old ladies at the matinees who are right there with us and the sexual innuendo. They are totally with it. They get what we’re doing up there. There’s no malicious intent, and it comes across that way.”
Much has been written recently about straight actors playing gay roles – “gay for pay” it’s generally called – but that’s not the case with Marland: He’s openly gay.
“It’s interesting for me, and for me in my personal life, because a lot of my personal life comes to the relationship with my character on stage, too. We have to stay within exact parameters [when we play these roles], but our body language – and occasionally our unscripted quiet ad-libs – are very real based on our lives in general,” he said.
Marland described “The Producers” as Mel Brooks’ love letter to Broadway and the movie musical.
“Everything in the show is a tip of the hat to something else. People who know theater or are theatergoers feel like they’re getting little tidbits that other people don’t. If you like Broadway musicals, or if you like theater, this is the show for you!”
“The Producers” Presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Masonic Temple Theatre, 500 Temple St., Detroit, Dec. 2 – Jan. 11. Tickets: $27.50 – $75. 313-872-1000. http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com