The Producers (Altitude Theatre)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
March 4 – 13
Opening Night of Altitude Theatre’s production of “The Producers” sees The Brisbane Powerhouse foyer filled with a red carpet entrance, media wall and much excitement in anticipation of failure… such is the story of fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Matt Young) who stumbles upon a seemingly failsafe scheme to profit from a flop. In partnership with timid accountant Leo Bloom (Mark Hill) and with the help of some farcical yet unaware characters, he sets upon a scam to produce what they hope will be the biggest failure in the history of commercial theatre (whose shares they can oversell), the offensive “Springtime for Hitler” gay romp about Adolf and Eva aka the worst musical ever written.
The record 12 Tony Award winning musical comes from the comic genius Mel Brooks’s stage adaptation of his own cult movie from 1968. Mel Brooks, of course, means an abundance of irreverence and over-the-top characters and every role is perfectly cast to accommodate this. Original Broadway and later 2005 movie stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick make for some big shoes to fill, but Young and Hill do so with aplomb. Young makes his energetic performance appear effortless and Hill’s anxious, awkward Leo immediately engenders audience affection. Much humour comes from the duo’s timing and together they perfect this, easily bouncing off each other’s energy and character nuances. And Rachael Ward is sublime as jiggly dancer and receptionist at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, especially in her enticing ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It’ impromptu office audition.
Director and Choreographer Joseph Simons’s vision is polished, allowing the cast to push their eccentric performances to their full potential. Particular mention should go to Patrick Conolly, playing wonderfully camp and eccentric ex-Nazi show writer Franz Liebkind dressed in lederhosen and a German Army helmet, and James Lee, playing flamboyant and critically panned theatre director Roger De Bris chosen by Bialystock in an attempt to ensure that “Springtime for Hitler” will flop. And when we hear from him as to why shows should be more pretty and witty in Act One’s ‘Keep it Gay’, his production team of staff, including common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (Alex Watson) give us many laughs, including from ensemble member Maddison Coleman as the lighting designer who gives animated face throughout.
The often politically-incorrect humour of “The Producers” draws on overblown accents, caricatures and theatre/showbiz jokes. Indeed, there are lots of stereotypes crescendoing together in the musical within a musical’s high-energy titular Busby-Berkeley-style number, which also sees the ensemble merge into from-almost-out-of-nowhere tank formation akin to the Shimbleshanks number in “Cats”. Josh McIntosh’s art deco design elements flavour the aesthetic and swift set transitions help to hold momentum as set pieces are choreographed into place. Jack Scandrett’s sound design is crisp and Ryan McDonald’s lighting works well, especially in emphasis of Max’s fast-paced Act Two jail cell recap of the plot thus far.
Even in repeat viewings, “The Producers’ provides abundant opportunities to see things anew. Under Jacqui Devereux’s musical direction, each song’s distinctive musical character is highlighted from the “Fiddler on the Roof” sounds of ‘The King of Broadway’ introduction to Max’s previous heights and the militaristically anthemic ‘We Can Do It’ in which he encourages Leo to think about the scheme, to an “On the Town” type of song start and the Fred and Gingerness of ‘That Face’, where left-alone Leo and Ulla start to fall in love. With strong vocals in every instance, each song could be considered a highlight until the next one comes along. ‘I Want to be a Producer”, for example, in which Leo sings of his secret desire to leave the drudgery of accounting is met with a huge audience response.
Musical numbers provide laugh-out-louds a-plenty from the silliness of Max and Leo’s Nazi hoedown with the tasteless show’s writer to the snippet of ‘dancing Hitler’ audition numbers and the show’s dance off between Hitler and world leaders of the Stalin sort, with the farce often amplified by quick, clever lyrics with over-the-top alliteration. Its endurance as an audience favourite is not only due to its humour, however, but its sentiment too, in acknowledgement of friendship between the two producers at core of story
“The reviews come out a lot faster when the critics leave at intermission,” Max reflects after opening and also closing night of “Funny Boy”, a musical version of “Hamlet”, early in the show. Thankfully, this is far from the case in this instance. Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production is an absolute triumph, deserving of its standing ovation audience affirmation. Indeed, the self-aware and hugely entertaining production, if it had live orchestra accompaniment, could easily take its place on QPAC’s Lyric Theatre stage as a reminder of how good and how funny the record-breaking Broadway musical is.