When The Production Company announced that The Producers would be part of its 2012 season, a few eyebrows were raised: it’s less than a decade since the original Australian production, starring Reg Livermore and Tom Burlinson, played here. How could a minimalist production with a very short rehearsal period stand up to such a recent memory?
It succeeds by directors Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant allowing the amazing talent of the cast to showcase the humour of Mel Brook’s gloriously old-fashioned musical comedy. It’s always a minor miracle that a Production Company show comes together in such a short time, which makes Hallsworth’s choreography even more impressive.
Wayne Scott Kermond’s vaudevillian style is perfectly suited to the down-on-his-luck producer Max Biallystock, and Brent Hill (Rock of Ages) is a revelation as the repressed accountant-with-a-dream Leo Bloom – like a rabbit caught in a spotlight, he is wide-eyed and adorable. Together they hatch a plot to stage a guaranteed flop Broadway show, which (of course!) doesn’t go entirely to plan.
No-one who has seen Christie Whelan-Brown in Company, Xanadu, The Drowsy Chaperone Britney Spears: The Cabaret will be at all surprised that she completely nails the role of Ulla – she’s got it, and she flaunts it!
One of the main drawcards of this production is the rather rare opportunity to see Trevor Ashley (Fat Swan, Hairspray, Priscilla, Diamonds are for Trevor, etc) on stage not wearing a dress. You could say it slightly misleads on that front (no spoilers!), but Ashley certainly makes the most of his role of the pigeon-fancying Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind.
Mitchel Butel (Avenue Q) is a hysterical (in every sense of the word) Roger De Bris, ably assisted by Rohan Brown (A Chorus Line, West Side Story, and Whelan-Brown’s real life husband) as Carmen Ghia to ‘Keep It Gay’. Speaking of which, Virginia Gay (Winners and Losers) provides an array of cameos, from a little old lady with rather particular appetites to a fairly convincing lesbian.
Who better than a drag queen to dress showgirl s? It was an inspired decision to have Paris (Stephen Merry) create these, supplementing the rest of the costumes designed by Kim Bishop.
The 23-piece Orchestra Victoria was in fine form, led by Musical Director Vanessa Scammel.
It’s been a year of slim pickings for musical fans in Melbourne – currently we have Annie and Moonshadow limping through limited seasons, with not much to look forward to in the near future. It’s timely to be reminded of how much fun a quality, adult, well-crafted musical can be. You only have until Sunday, so don’t delay!
Photo: Jeff Busby