Step 1: We find the worst play ever written. Step 2: We hire the worst director in town. Step 3: We raise two million dollars. … One for me, one for you. There's a lot of little old ladies out there!
Mel Brooks' brilliant smash hit musical, The Producers, is back in town – Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom, two theatrical producers, are in it up to their collective tushes when their get rich quick scheme goes hilariously to dreck. Brooks is a master at satire and is completely , unashamedly and deliciously irreverent. His wit has been said to have very little subtlety but then that's not what it is about – his satires are a means to an end with heart – The Producers is no different.
The show also offers its fair share of challenges. Actor Brent Hill, playing the stage struck accountant Leo Bloom, shares: "The first Max/Leo scene is a roller coaster. It sets up so many other dominoes for the entire plot, so it's been important to nut that out. The time factor is also a problem. We don't have much time for too much exploration of scenes, which is fine, it just means you've got to be more economical and efficient with your learning. Which brings about the challenge of being social at lunch time whilst neck deep in script. But (Directors) Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth are great. They keep it moving at this hectic pace while still being able to be gifted cool cats and lovely human beings, which is very appreciated given the stress that this time frame can cause (they gave me 2 dollars to say that)."
In The Producers Brooks is responsible for the story as based on his 1968 movie as well as the lyrics and score. The score is big – the songs are BIG, bold and brassy – the orchestra needs to be big. The original Broadway production had about 23 musicians. The music gets under your skin and is unforgettable. "I love this show. Love it. It's brilliant," says Hill. "The score is incredible and brilliantly written, the script is sharp and surprisingly heartfelt, and unbelievably gorgeous women get to portray themselves as frail, horny 90 year olds. What a gift! It's fun. The plot is clear and simple, you are never lost with what's going on, it's simply wonderful. Better yet, it EARNS its ridiculous moments. Mel Brooks learnt a lot along the way. Genius."
Hill graduated from WAAPA in 2008 and since then has made his name as both a theatre and musical theatre actor. He has very early memories of 'dressing up' in various guises and attributes the growth of his chosen career path to nature as well as the creative input of his grandparents. His desire to become an actor…well that's another story. "I think the "acting bug" is a particular disease, or passion, that you're born with," Hill explains. " We're all excellent mimics; that's how we first walk and talk, so I guess it just grows from there. As a kid, I remember dressing up as Sherlock Holmes and solving crimes around my Grandad's house with my special detective kit (consisting of fridge magnets and nails). That's probably how the germ/cure began gestating. My Baba made dresses and my Grandad constructed things and as a result had a house littered with costumes and props. I would have to attribute my distaste for science and math to my desire to become an actor."
Among Hill's theatre credits, he cites director Kate Revz's Julius Caesar as his most challenging role to date. "We did Julius Caesar in 2009, set in 1970's Jonestown. That world was particularly exhausting to exist in; constant paranoia, false smiles, and then ultimate defeat by Augustus and Marc Antony with a big drum of coolaid and cyanide. It was a big commitment but it was a blast. I don't heavily get into "method" but I do believe in Character Bleeds, and I suddenly found myself early in the morning thinking about how to take down Caesar, and then transference began and the director would give me a note and I'd smile and nod but secretly plot to do something else. It was draining, but every single person committed, and I think any longer than the month season would have seen us all in the infirmary or mental hospital."
Hill has also been the recipient of many awards including the Cranston Cup in 2010; National Theatresports Team Champion in 2009; 2005 Actors Equity Guild Award for Best Newcomer but it is the 2011 Green Room Award he won for his work in Rock of Ages that Hill describes as such a huge, huge honour. "It was horrible," he says describing the moments before the award was announced. " Sitting there for 2 hours before it was announced (recipe for 'Anxiety Stew'). And the fact that it was just between Reg Livermore and myself. So, yes, when my name was called I was in shock and had nothing planned so forgot half the people I wanted to thank and opened with a Steve Martin joke; "When I first heard that I was nominated for a green room award, I really spent the next few weeks really trying to… care." I think people took me seriously. There was certainly a colourful silence. Rock of Ages was incredibly hard work, but the more you put into something the more you get out of it. I'm super glad that the dedication to the performance was noticed by someone. But I think I got the award because it's made of Kryptonite, so I would be the only one it doesn't kill."
And while Hill has certainly worked with a plethora of directors all brining their own style and techniques to the rehearsal room, his definition of a good director is one who is savvy, alert and reticent. " I think a good director is like a good actor; they can adapt their sensibilities to the material in front of them, explains Hill. "I'm big on truth and the idea of "genuine" so even when you have to cartwheel, ninja kick and then flail nunchucks, what is the thing that makes that credible as opposed to a gag… or rather, why can't it be both? So someone who can focus on that. And are able to focus a large group of people on an exceptional amount of sugar. An exceptional director knows when to keep quiet with full knowledge that they've been leading you to step 5 while they're on step 9."
The Producers runs from July 8 – 15 at the Arts Centre
"There's a reason the story won an Oscar. It's good (to be the king)."