The production team of MLOC’s The Producers have created a show that is a huge hit with the audience and a fun night at the theatre.
Jane Court’s direction embraces the comedy and spirit of Mel Brooks’ book. Slapstick is used to heighten the craziness when needed, and keep the pace of the show flowing nicely.
Musical director Ian Nisbet kept fine control over the cast and fourteen piece orchestra at all times, never allowing the musicians to drown out the singers. Due credit must be given to Kevin Nguyen for paring down the full nineteen piece set of orchestrations down to a very serviceable and balanced fourteen piece complement.
Taylor Hollands’ choreography was a good mix of Susan Stroman’s original figures and her own ideas. Hollands’ choreography was executed with varying levels of precision by the cast. For the climax of ‘Springtime for Hitler’, Hollands chose to use the swastika marching formation – on such a small stage, it didn’t read as well as Stroman originally intended, but it was fun inclusion.
Simplicity was employed for sets and props. Flying in the office set was really good use of the small stage, but the window piece constantly swinging was a distraction. The sound that issued from the Velcro closure on the safe door was unfortunate, as it almost upstaged the actors, and there must have been a more realistic way to secure the door, yet make it easy to open.
As Leo Bloom, Matthew Hadgraft delivered a brilliant performance. He was totally immersed in the role 100% of the time, to the point that the odd fumble of a line was merely an extension of Leo's nervous attitude. Quite the ‘triple threat’, Hadgraft showed great ease through both his dancing and singing. His smooth vocal delivery was most evident during ‘Till Him’ – the song was given the treatment of being a production number, and Hadgraft used a tongue-in-cheek semi-operatic vocal quality to great effect.
Michael Young has great singing voice that really suited the role of Max Bialystock and his performance of ‘Betrayed’ was an audience favourite. Young showed himself to be cool headed under pressure when he lost a line of lyrics in the marathon song, and simply jumped back in at the very next opportunity. He gave Bialy a straight forwardness and air of mischief that allowed him to get the audience on his side, and provided a good foil to Hadgraft’s Bloom. A true portrayal of Max must show a man without scruples, one who will go to any length to feed his love of money: this conniving quality was not always bubbling away under the surface of Young’s performance. To see a producer whose mind runs at top speed while acting on his latest hair-brained ‘get rich quick’ scheme would have the character more engaged in each moment.
Sarah Power’s Ulla was sexy and utterly charming. Her Swedish accent was always consistent and her vocal transition from sweet Ulla to bold, brassy, belting Ulla in “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It’ was strong and seamless. Power’s dance abilities and style were well matched to those of Hadgraft.
John Davidson as Roger De Bris got camper as the show went on. His first scene could have benefitted from a more flamboyant attitude, particularly when insinuating himself upon Leo Bloom’s lap. However, Davidson came into his own during the 'Heil myself, heil to me' moment of the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ sequence – very strong singing, good tap dancing…and great legs! Carmen Ghia, Roger’s common law assistant, was superbly played by Jay Miller – his comic timing was spot on and he had the audience in fits of laughter with his double exit from Roger’s lounge room.
Daniel Cooper brought just the right mix of psycho and ridiculous to his turn as Franz Liebkind. When he yelled at anyone (or anything!), the sudden increase in decibels was hilarious, and made the audience jump in their seats more than once – his stand-over tactics when dressing down ‘Springtime for Hitler’ auditionee Jason Green (Brendan Hyde) and his interaction with his special pigeon Hilda were two of the funniest moments of the show. At times, Cooper’s shouted dialogue was delivered a little too fast, making it difficult to comprehend, and meaning that some laughs may have been lost. Franz’s singing has never sounded so open and easy – Cooper’s rendition of 'Haben sie gehört das Deutscheband' was very musical and most amusing.
The ensemble were vocally strong, with the Act One Finale being some of the finest singing of the night. However, during that same finale, it was apparent that some of the gents in the ensemble were not sure of what they were doing, awkwardly looking sideways at each other as though to ask 'what do we do next' – standing in the back row doesn’t mean you are hidden. A shout out to the singing from the Little Old Ladies, particularly in the court room scene – hilarious, raucous, and very well balanced.
It was great to see that the cast are so comfortable within the show that improvising is possible when things go awry and to also add to the 'business': a highly amusing re-slap when a hand outright missed its target, the small talk around signing Franz's contract, as two examples. These moments lifted the show to a most enjoyable place where the audience can see the actors enjoying themselves so much that they can sit back and be taken on a fabulously entertaining ride.
MLOC’s The Producers is playing until November 16 at The Phoenix Theatre in Elwood.
BOOKINGS: www.mloc.org.au or (03) 9551 7514