“Where did we go right?” Well, OSMaD, let me count the ways…
From the highly talented, carefully chosen cast, to the sumptuous, pristine staging, with witty, tightly drilled direction and choreography and lavish 24-piece orchestra, OSMaD’s The Producers is a superb night at the theatre.
Famous for returning laughter to the Great White Way, and sweeping away all before it with a record 12 Tony Awards, Mel Brooks’ love letter to Broadway remains a daffy delight. Act one is especially well crafted, as the menagerie of manic characters is progressively introduced. The delirium of “Keep it Gay” whipped Thursday night’s audience into a frenzy, leaving them happily clapping in time through the ensuing scene change.
From the very first swell from the orchestra it is clear that music director Ben Hudson’s exacting standards are as high as ever. Achieving a special quality that transcends the mere playing of the score, Hudson creates a rich, glorious sound that surpasses the increasingly tinny tones heard on Broadway. The orchestra deservedly receives a full page listing in the program, befitting the players’ status as artists of the theatre.
Hudson’s Midas touch extends to the vocals, and, thanks to excellent work from sound engineer Sam Horstein, these are heard with crisp clarity over the orchestral music, allowing the audience to just sit back and enjoy the show.
Given the range of ages and “character”-type performers in the opening scene, it is a wonderful surprise when the company breaks into sharp choreographic moves as they celebrate Max Bialystock’s past as “The King of Broadway.” Louise Mitchell’s choreography samples just enough from the original while including plenty of wit and originality. The abundance of tap is appreciated (although floor mikes would have further enhanced this).
Just as tightly choreographed are the sprightly scene changes, which are tied closely to the exact lighting cues of Danny Issko’s lighting design. Issko’s lighting, aided by pinpoint accuracy from spotlights, also draws the eye to follow the action around the large stage, and his gorgeous use of colour makes the rear ruched curtain look a million dollars.
Ros Turnley’s splashy costume design adds to the fun and spectacle. The ensemble cycle through a dizzying array of characters, all with full costumes and often with wigs. Highlights include the coterie of little old ladies, the pastel rainbow of feather boas of Leo’s imaginary dancing girls, the full lineup of Nazi uniforms for Springtime for Hitler and Roger’s Princess Anastasia/Chrysler Building dress.
In the same sense that opera productions are credited to the director, this is Richard Perdriau’s show. As director, his focused, exacting approach has brought the colourful characters roaring to life and has wrung every laugh from the book; there is not a wasted word or gesture all night. I am sure that many, like me, have heard the jokes before, and yet we laughed at them all over again.
Perdriau’s set design makes clever use of a full width, sweeping pair of steps, which easily represent scenes such as Franz Liebkind’s roof, Roger de Bris’ elegant Upper East Side apartment, and the Springtime for Hitler stage. Perdriau’s backdrop with grand cityscape and searchlights frames the action perfectly, and neatly ties in with the graphic design of the show’s marketing.
Making a welcome return to the stage, Phil Smith plays the weary, greedy, unscrupulous Max Bialystock with élan. Although a tad young for the role, Smith has a highly expressive face and still manages the plastered comb-over look of the leering lothario. In an unusual achievement for actors playing this role, Smith lands the humour without upstaging or overshadowing his fellow performers.
Another welcome return comes from Robbie Smith as wide-eyed, dithering accountant Leo Bloom. With a splendid character voice and nuanced mannerisms, Smith proves utterly adorkable, and his incredible dancing skills are an added bonus.
Patrick O’Halloran nails the plummy voice and affected mannerisms of Roger de Bris with flair, and his Judy at the Palace moment in Springtime for Hitler is spot on. James Davies takes flight as Carmen Ghia, scoring plenty of additional laughs with his perpetual dance motion. Davies and O’Halloran’s spark of chemistry enhances their scenes as the devoted pair.
Dolled up as sexy Swedish nymphet Ulla, Alana Lane brings some much-needed feminine beauty to the lead cast. Lane sparkles with Ulla’s comedy and dance, but it is her belt, in “When You’ve Got It,” that really blows the roof off.
Warren Logan keeps a merry sparkle in his eye as deranged playwright Franz Liebkind, driving the action along with the character’s manic energy. Logan deftly tempers his considerable singing and dancing skills in keeping with the spirit of the role.
Special mention goes to talented ensemble members Phil Lambert, Kristy Griffin and Jeremy Russo, who particularly shine in their range of delightful cameo roles.
Wonderful music and sound along with Perdriau’s scenic elements and Turnley’s glittering costumes, set off by Issko’s lighting, create a slick, highly polished combined effect that makes the $45 ticket price seem an incredible bargain.
The Producers was reviewed 23 October 2014 at Geoffrey McComas Theatre, Scotch College, Hawthorn where it continues until 25 October 2014.
OSMaD is Old Scotch Musical and Drama Club.