EXCLUSIVE: The dance card for the Jack Black comedy The Polka King just got longer with Saturday Night Live‘s Vanessa Bayer, Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s J.B. Smoove and Hawaii Five-O‘s Willie Garson boarding the project. The news follows after Deadline broke exclusively last week that Jason Schwartzman and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver are also set to star alongside Black who is not only headlining, but producing too under his Electric Dynamite label.
Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky are co-directing and writing The Polka King, which is based on Joshua Brown and John Mikulak’s documentary, The Man Who Would be Polka King, which follows the rise and fall of Jan Lewan, a Pennsylvania polka sensation who shocked the polka world when it was revealed he seduced his fans into investing in a Ponzi scheme.
Lewan was born in Poland and defected to Canada during the early 1970s while performing with a Polish musical group before settling in the U.S. by the mid-’80s. In time, he went from playing small Polish clubs and churches at night (while also holding down a day job in a hotel) to setting up his own orchestra and moving on to play venues like the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. He even landed a Grammy nomination. As Lewan’s fame grew, he organized trips to still-communist Poland for his fans. While there he would buy souvenirs at Soviet-era prices and bring them back with him to America, where he would resell at market price in his newly opened store, turning a major profit. To raise money to buy more souvenirs, he started offering unregistered promissory notes at guaranteed 12% interest. Events would begin to spiral out of his control following his wife’s ill-fated bid to win Mrs. Pennsylvania led to accusations of vote tampering. With suspicion rising against him, Lewan’s businesses began to suffer. He eventually would be declared bankrupt and sent to jail for fleecing millions of dollars from investors in multiple states. Fans were shocked when it was discovered that their hero had committed one of the largest (and possibly only) polka-related financial crimes in history.
Producers of The Polka King are David Permut of Permut Presentations, Stuart Cornfeld of Red Hour Pictures, Shivani Rawat and Monica Levinson of ShivHans Pictures, and Priyanka Mattoo. Rawat’s ShivHans Pictures is also financing The Polka King. ShivHans has been behind such pictures as Bleecker Street’s Danny Collins, the Oscar-nominated Trumbo and Captain Fantastic which is currently out in theaters.
Bayer is repped by WME and Rise Management. Smoove is repped by UTA and Converge Media Group. Garson is with Paradigm and John Carrabino Management. WME and ICM represent distribution rights on The Polka King.