When wrong becomes two right

The Producers (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Twelfth Night Theatre

October 21 – 30

A show featuring a musical within a musical called “Springtime for Hitler” may seem like a bold choice as follow up from Queensland Musical Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music”. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic may appear to have little in common with the madcappery of “The Producers”, apart from their shared appearance of swastika banners, yet both are hugely entertaining and serve to showcase the versatility as well as the talent the company has on hand.

The tongue-in-cheek journey into satire and comedy that is Mel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is totally inappropriate, even more so as the years go on since its 2001 Broadway debut set the standard for modern, outrageous, in-your-face humour, yet it is still as much of a laugh-out-loud spectacle as ever. The story of scheming down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (Tony Campbell) who, along with his mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Ray Gillmore) aims to produce the biggest flop in Broadway history, thereby bilking his little old ladies backers out of millions of dollars is so wrong, but also so right, thanks largely to their chosen vehicle…. a musical that promises ‘A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva’. And as if that is not enough, the humour of its realisation draws also upon ridiculous accents, stereotypical caricatures and in jokes about theatre and show business.

Original Broadway and later 2005 movie stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick make for some big shoes to fill and as a duo, Campbell and Gillmore do it well, feeding off each other in their complementary performance styles. Campbell is adept at delivering the quick-witted verbal banter that characterises the ruthless and unprincipled Max, making him a likeable even if ruthless rogue despite his ego, which is essential to investing the audience in his ultimate success or otherwise. Gillmore, meanwhile, effectively balances Leo’s neurosis with emergence of his inner confidence as he follows his dream of leaving the unhappiness of accounting to become a producer.

The comedy of “The Producers” arises from archetypal characters in extreme situations in which they react in heightened ways and Queensland Musical Theatre has certainly leaned into this, with hilarious results. Patricia Rhodes is excellent in a committed comic performance as sex-crazed little old lady Hold-me-touch-me, whom Max manipulates into investing in his next play and Jo Burnett is a crowd favourite as Carmen Ghia,the dramatic, flamboyant and possessive common law assistant to worst director in New Your Roger De Bris (Steve Beck) who is recruited to direct the love letter to Hitler to sure fire flopdom…. or so Max and Leo suspect. However, in testament to the outlandishness of the whole shebang, it is the hot-tempered Nazi fanatic playwright Franz Liebkind’s (Byron Philp) pet pigeon that gets the show’s biggest laugh.

In amongst all the eccentricities, there are also some strong vocal talents showcased. As jiggly dancer and ‘secretary-slash-receptionist’ at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, Ula, Kate Retzki displays impressive vocals especially in her enticing ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It’ impromptu office audition, eliciting some wonderfully animated reactions from the appreciative Max and Leo. There is also a perhaps underused Matthew Butler, who plays variety support roles, including as Set Designer Bryan, a member of Roger’s creative team, who displays some crisp, standout vocals.

Energy abounds under Nathaniel Currie’s direction, which is reflected also in Julianne Burke’s choreography of ensemble numbers like the show-within-a-show’s big titular opening number and also Act One’s closer, the best ‘Along Came Bialy’ I have seen, in which Max sets about raising the necessarily two million dollars to produce “Springtime for Hitler” by calling upon all the little old ladies of New York, who appear in wonderful animation, walking frames and all, courtesy of the committed comedy of the ensemble.

Although there are some pesky microphone issues, scenes changes are all very swift so as to rarely take the audience out of the story. Tom Dodds’ lighting design adds interest to the potentially drab ‘unhappy’ chant introduction to Leo’s daydream of ‘I Wanna Be a Producer’ and works well to assist in Max’s Act Two jail cell recap of the story’s plot thus far in ‘Betrayed’, also bridging us from the insanely funny adventure that represents the bulk of the story, to more poignant emotional coda of the Max and Leo’s friendship. The score is filled with dazzling numbers that hint to all range of musical stylings and under Benjamin Tubb-Hearne’s musical direction, the live orchestra complements them all, but especially the big production ones in which the chorus is used in classical manner of a ‘traditional’ Broadway musical comedy of the Golden Age.

The record 12 Tony Award winning musical (one of the few to win in every category for which it was nominated) is filled with clever satire within its outlandish plot, meaning that it continues to entertain audience members, regardless of if they have seen the musical one or multiple times before, or even if you know nothing of it at all. The self-aware and hugely popular musical is pure entertainment, providing laugh-out-louds a-plenty when done right, as Queensland Musical Theatre’s production shows.

Photos – c/o Creative Street

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