The Producers is derivative, crass, inappropriate and liable to offend people of every age, race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation.
I loved it.
The only musical in NUTS’ winter season, The Producers follows a washed-up Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, and weedy accountant, Leo Bloom, as they attempt to make two million dollars by producing a show that will flop. To ensure this, they find the most offensive script possible (Springtime for Hitler), the worst director in the business, Roger de Bris, and a cast including ardent neo-Nazi Franz as the Fuhrer. Unfortunately, the play is so offensive that it is interpreted as blistering satire and becomes a hit.
Considering that neither the directors nor the producer of The Producers have taken a production role before, this seems an extremely challenging choice of play, something acknowledged by director Amanda Bruce. As she and the production team point out, this piece involves a large ratio of music to dialogue for a book musical, which in turn demands gifted comic actors who can also handle substantial singing roles. The experience of the directing team, Bruce and Hannah Goring, and producer Leila Nashef, as talented performers in their own right, has given them a keen sense of what works, and an eye for the kind of details which can make a good production great or mediocre. However, the details are sound. Sets are simple and functional, including pieces crafted specifically for this production; scene changes are smooth; the choreography is unobtrusively impressive, albeit at times a little too polished, and the orchestra sounds fantastic.
In such a character-driven show, the casting is vitally important. And here, the directing team have refused to fall into the trap of miscasting. As Bialystock, Ruaidhri Johnston combines immense stage presence with a flair for both laugh-a-minute wordplay and physical comedy. Joe Shaw’s Bloom is splendidly neurotic, with a real sweetness beneath the gauche surface. As a pair, however, they are even better than the sum of their parts. As Ulla, the incandescent Lucy Sherratt lends substance as well as style, with a lovely singing voice and impeccable comic timing. James Howlett delivers a scene-stealing turn as flamboyant assistant, Carmen, earning laughs with or without the aid of dialogue. Max Frosh’s gangly, earnest Franz finds subtleties in the show’s most overt caricature. But my favourite performance of the night was undoubtedly that of Matt McGuire as deluded director Roger. McGuire’s Roger is outrageous, but with a genuine need for validation which makes his appropriation of the starring role of Hitler inevitable.
The musical numbers are consistently good, with standouts including ‘Keep it Gay’ (for the conga line alone), ‘That Face’, a pastiche of the lovers’ duet, and the standout production number, ‘Springtime for Hitler’.
The Producers is not without its flaws. The balance of voices against the orchestra was intermittently lacking, and in a show with witty, gag-a-line lyrics, this can take away from numbers such as Max’s Act Two lament, in which many of the lyrics were lost. There are some inconsistent accents. Some cast members are not the strongest of singers, but this is less important than the fact that every character, from the central pair to a gaggle of rapacious grannies, is perfectly pitched. All in all, the cast and crew can congratulate themselves on a job well done.