The enjoyable thing about a show like The Producers, which turns its ridiculing eye to Broadway itself, is that it has its cake and eats it.
The golden-age spectacle of feather-plumed showgirls in tap heels may be presented through a satirical lens, with all of the pitfalls of show business – unscrupulous producers, investors who must be courted at any cost, and the crushing inevitability of public opinion – fully exposed. But this Savoyards production knows that the humour coexists with genuine, corny pleasures. Musical director Mark Beilby explains that The Producers ‘has been said to be a big Broadway book musical that is so drunk on its powers to entertain that it leaves the audience delirious.’ But the cast and crew are delirious too, and the fun they’re having is infectious.
Washed-up producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom are the backbone of the show. Gary Rose brings forty years of stage experience to the role of Max, including a turn in the role for the world premiere of The Producers in community theatre. He makes it all look effortless, blazing through quick dialogue and complex lyrics with the kind of non-composure only composure can pull off, and he holds the audience hostage through the whirlwind of the tricky solo song ‘Betrayed’.
In contrast, Joshua Thia brings extreme effort to Leo Bloom in his debut performance with Savoyards (but not his first as Bloom). He exudes wholesomeness, echoing the more sincere sweetness of his role in Underground’s Love and Information, tapping into what he calls Bloom’s ‘naivety’. And he brings flailing, face-contorting enthusiasm to a show that relies on consistent energy to pull the audience along.
Other standouts in the cast include Scott Edwards, who brings a remarkable nimbleness of hips to the role of Carmen Ghia, flamboyant assistant to the stars. Grace Clarke is another, approaching Ulla with serious dance experience. Choreographer Hannah Crowther commented on the challenge of merging the show’s pastiche of traditional Broadway with the script’s physical comedy, and both Grace Clarke and the cast of specialty dancers succeeded in creating organised chaos.
Savoyard’s stated purpose is to mount ‘high quality, large scale musical theatre productions’, and it’s worth noting the richness and attention to detail of The Producers. Director Gabriella Flowers thanks her creative team for committing to her ‘crazy ideas’, and I’d say they paid off. The sets of Leo’s dystopian accountancy firm and Franz Liebkind’s rooftop pigeon habitat are great gags on their own, as well as the surreal German showgirls of ‘Springtime For Hitler’ (there’s a huge, two-dimensional sausage headpiece that I will never be able to forget). All in all, metres of glitter trim and boxes of marquee bulbs were spilled on this production, and none were wasted.
The Mel Brooks film that the musical is based on came out in 1967, not so far from the era it lampoons. In 2017, The Producers brings a welcome acidity to what is really a chance for musical theatre lovers to revel in nostalgia. And while the show’s sexuality humour is of a very specific era, it’s always a good time to make fun of Nazis.
Book tickets at www.savoyards.com.au/
By Rebecca Cheers