The Producers first appeared in 1968 as a film by Mel Brooks. It was finally made into a stage musical in 2001, with book, lyric and score all written by Brooks and arrangements by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman. The show became well-known for treating distasteful subject matter in a very light and humorous way- in other words, for being pure Mel Brooks!
The plot concerns producer Max Bialystock, who has long gotten by on seducing old ladies into investing in his shows. Finding himself down-and-out, Max sees his nerdy accountant Leo. Max and Leo cook up a plan that would see them both solvent forever, although the moral Leo is cautious about implementing it.
The two of them set out to find the worst show in history, which is a repellent comedy about Hitler, and find an attractive blonde, Ulla, to play the lead- who, to Max’s dismay, is attracted to the mousy Leo instead of to himself. Persuading many women to invest in it, Max and Leo wait for the awful show to be a flop so they can flee to Rio with their investors’ money. The show is a success, but this has unexpected results.
MLOC are very excited about this current production of The Producers, which will run from November 8th to 16th at the Phoenix Theatre at Elwood College. The show is directed by Jane Court, who directed MLOC’s “The Witches of Eastwick” in 2012. A fan of the original film and all of Brooks’ work, Court says “The Producers” has always been on her bucket list. “I love his humour,” she says. “I love his ability to poke fun at sacred cows.” She says that the team spend rehearsals looking for more and more ways to bring out the script’s humour. Her job is made easier, she declares, by all her cast being terrific comedians. Court feels that what Brooks is saying in all his works is to look on the bright side and find the humour in everything. “I would love to meet him and trial this assumption.”
For musical director Ian Nisbet, The Producers is a nice break from focusing on the more challenging scores of Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. Like Court he is a Brooks enthusiast. “The opportunity to work on something so silly and enjoyable,” he says, “was one I couldn’t pass up.” One of his main challenges has been to cut the orchestra down from 19 to 14 in order to fit into The Phoenix’s very tight pit. He credits his assistant Kevin Nguyen for helping him achieve this with skilful new orchestrations.
Nisbet is also keen for his cast to create their own interpretations of the score. “This show is famously known for the performances of Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick,” he points out, “and if you hear either of them on this stage I will feel that I have failed in my role as MD.” Fortunately leads Michael Young (Max Bialystock) and Matt Hadgraft (Leo Bloom) have been very responsive to his ideas. “I Wanna Be a Producer” and “Springtime for Hitler” are currently Nisbet’s favourite songs in the score, as the cast are doing such a good job of them.
“Rehearsals are simply joyous,” says Nisbet. “We're running the show now and continuing to find new things to laugh at and enjoy together. The cast have been a big ball of fun the whole way, and I'm really looking to see that energy transfer on to the stage in the next couple of weeks.” After a Master's degree in Musical Theatre, a Bachelor's degree in Drama and an AMusA in Flute performance, and while reading for his PhD in Musical Theatre, it is clear Nisbet is enjoying working on a show that appeals to his sense of humour.
Michael Young previously played Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fagin in Oliver!, Daryl van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. He is thrilled to play Max after wishing to perform in The Producers for years. “He doesn’t hurt anyone,” he says of his supposedly nefarious character. “He just scams money from rich little old ladies who don't really need it.” Young analyses Max. “Max learns that greed is not everything,” he remarks “and the true meaning of friendship.” Michael is glad to be performing alongside Matt Hadgraft, who he describes as “a real triple threat.”
Hadgraft played Cliff Bradshaw in “Cabaret” and worked in an ABBA tribute show before joining MLOC. Hadgraft describes himself as a ham. He says it feels fabulous to play a nerd. “He's not the thick glasses and snivelling voice variety of nerd,” he observes of Leo. “I love playing that kind of thing over a plain old boring vanilla cool type any day.” Hadgraft does not find it surprising that the slinky Ulla falls in love with Leo. “She can see what a lovely soul Leo is under all that cowardice and unhappiness,” he says. As for Max, Hadgraft speaks of how Leo is in awe of him. “Leo is being taught his dream business and getting paid for it by his idol, so he's under a spell. Max has a malleable, gullible, willing and naive accomplice who handed him the key to his own unique success.” However the tale of their friendship, as well as their business relationship, is important to the plot. “If only everyone's friends were so devoted in the final frame!” says Hadgraft.
Without a doubt the team are enthusiastic. Nisbet feels it may be one of the best MLOC shows of recent years. Young says they have an incredibly talented cast. Hadgraft describes the show as “a flat-out belly-laugh from beginning to end.” In the words of director Jane Court, “Come along and have fun. Laugh and enjoy a wonderful cast and crew.” MLOC certainly seem set to enjoy their season!
MLOC's production of The Producers runs from Friday November 8, 2013 to Saturday November 16, 2013 at Phoenix Theatre, 101 Glenhuntly Road, Elwood. Tickets and further information can be found at: http://www.mloc.org.au/producers.asp