Left – Christie Whelan-Browne and Mitchell Butel. Christie Whelan-Browne, Wayne Scott Kermond and Brent Hill. Photos – Jeff Busby
What better way to warm up a cold Melbourne night than with a big-bellied satirical musical? The Producers is about as big and brash as music theatre gets – a collection of great songs, a dance-heavy ensemble, broad jokes and a dark bent to keep things interesting. Mel Brooks' story of the musical within the musical that aims to offend everyone and make a sure-fire fortune for producers Bialystock and Bloom revels in songs like Springtime for Hitler and Keep it Gay and is chock full of tight one-liners and double entendre.
Even with The Production Company's more concert-style presentation, it's still over the top in every way – from the overtly gay humour, to the exaggerated caricatures, and the razzle-dazzle showgirl-style dance numbers.
Orchestra Victoria (musical direction by Vanessa Scammell) takes up most of the floor space, but Adam Gardnir's tiered set creates a multi-levelled stage that effectively integrates the physical action. There's a huge cast, but somehow it all manages to squeeze in and there's great versatility and energy among the cast who play everything from sparkly chorus girls and horny old ladies to bored accountants and prisoners.
Simple props like hand puppets on the chorus girls fit the bill as the pet birds of crazy Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (camped up to the hilt by Trevor Ashley) and a basic sofa, desk and door evoke the office of Bialystock and Bloom.
Wayne Scott Kermond as Max Bialystock plays it for laughs, ramping up the slapstick while Brent Hill as naïve sidekick Leo Bloom brings out the nervy energy of the accountant turned producer. His performance builds as it goes and is an appealing duo with Kermond in songs like Where Did We Go Right? and 'Til Him. Swedish delight Ulla is ably embraced by Christie Whelan-Browne and Mitchell Butel clearly revels in the role of gayer than gay director Roger De Bris.
Highlights are large group numbers like Opening Night and I Wanna Be A Producer that make the most of the ensemble and swell with the energy of large-scale Broadway. Enhanced by Kim Bishop's sharp costuming, they are visual delights.
All up, directors Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth (who is also responsible for the snappy choreography) opt for exaggeration over subtlety and focus on the broad comedy and this works well in the context. With its high-level vocals, tight dancing and live music that does not miss a beat, this production of The Producers is a perfect antidote to the winter blues.
The Production Company presents
Directors Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth
Venue: State Theatre | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 8 – 15 Jul 2012
Tickets: $45 – $105
Bookings: 1300 182 183