“When you’ve got it, flaunt it!” and Savoyards’ 2017 season closer The Producers has got it in spades. The Producers, Mel Brooks’ runaway Broadway hit about the scheming producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, is fast paced, devilish, and side splittingly hilarious.
Director Gabriella Flowers put the cast through the wringer with her clear, tight direction. Throwing the small chorus into a variety of roles, that had them leaping through costume changes and characters at a dizzying pace. The direction worked so well and had such a clear overarching vision for the entire show, from top to bottom, that it was often hard to see where the direction stopped, and the choreography/set design/stage management/lighting design ect started. Flowers made the most of her talented principal cast, making bold choices that brought the audience in effortlessly through the fourth wall, and gave enough differences from the professional tour and film to feel fresh and unexpected.
Choreography by Hannah Crowther was slick and functional. Moving from big, splashy, Broadway numbers (‘I Wanna Be A Producer’ was dance-in-your-seat good fun) to the slapsticky numbers (‘Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop’) with ease. It gave everyone something to do, and made great use of the musical interludes that permeate the score.
Musical direction by Mark Beilby was nothing short of wonderful. The orchestra delivered in spades on the big Broadway sound, and from the overture they set the tone for what was to come. Additional, Beilby worked well with the chorus, producing tight harmony work, and a gorgeously rich, full sound from the entire ensemble. My only gripe is that for the first half of the show, the orchestra often sounded like they were playing in a bathtub with a really compressed, muffled, sound. Considering the talent of the musicians, and the tightness of Beilby’s directorship, this was a shame. This is not a reflection on Beilby, or the orchestra, but rather on the sound team failing to achieve a solid balance and not giving adequate support to the pit. This was, fortunately, fixed somewhat after intermission.
The Producers would be nothing without a well-cast Max Bialystock and in Gary Rose, Savoyards got everything they could have asked for. Rose gave the role a nuance and softness that is not necessarily on display from first glance of the text. Delighting in the scheming, greedy, schtuping, slapstick nature of the role, he definitely appears to have more fun on stage than anyone else. He capably sang his way through the score, with only a hint of energy flagging towards the end during ‘Betrayed’. He played wonderfully against Bialystock’s counterpart, Leo Bloom.
As Bloom, Joshua Thai is a show-stealing powerhouse. Bringing every inch of the neurotic, shy, ambitious-but-afraid Bloom to the forefront, Thia sang, danced, and acted up a storm, and delivered huge bursts of energy every time he hit the stage. A particular highlight was his performance during ‘I Wanna Be A Producer’, which gave Thia every single chance to showcase his phenomenal talent.
Rose and Thia were ably supported by Grace Clarke, who gave us a strong and confident Ulla. Her rendition of ‘If You’ve Got It’ drew applause, cheers, and whistles from the audience. Clarke’s work with Thia was delightful and together they drew the audience into the whirlwind romance.
Walter Lago played the ill-fated German Franz Liebkind with a definite commitment to the slapstick nature of the role. Lago has wonderful comic timing and landed every joke with aplomb. He had some difficulty with his accent work and while it may have fallen short of Germany it certainly landed somewhere in Europe and the audience couldn’t have minded a bit, roaring with laughter along with him.
Rounding out the lead cast was David Morris as Roger De Bris and Scott Edwards as Carmen Ghia. Both gave wonderful turns as the flamboyantly over the top couple. Morris stopped the show with his solo work in ‘Springtime for Hitler’, eating up the applause and playing the audience like a violin. As Carmen, Edwards was sassy, spiteful, and thoroughly delightful. Effortlessly riding the line between caricature and reality, and finding a nuanced balance.
In a phenomenal amount of roles, the chorus work together to augment nearly every scene in the show and it is a delight. The costume changes are dizzying to try to keep track of, and it must be bedlam backstage as they negotiate their way from little old lady, to nazi, to village people, and back again. It would almost be unfair to single any of them out, but special mentions must go to;
- Aerlyn James as the happy to be there chorus girl who stole a scene change and ran away with it.
- Tristan Vanyai for being the grizzliest little old lady out there.
- And last but in no way least, to Reindert (last onstage as The King in The King and I) Toia’s … packaging.
The set design by Sherryl-Lee Secomb is simple and functional. It provides all the necessary glitz and glam and transitions between locale fairly easily. The static NYC backdrop gave us the right amount of nods and provided the show design with a neutral space to bring to life with colour and lighting. The only slight annoyance I had was the waste paper basket, necessary for the storyline, but it kept getting kicked over during the action. My absolute favourite by far was the set for Whitehall and Marks. A brilliant use of simple design for multiple function.
Costume design by Kim Heslewood and her team was a feast of sequins and suits. Heslewood had her work carved out for her by the whirlwind of changes needed for each cast member, but was more than up to the challenge and the stage glowed with beautiful costumes. Many of which were more set piece than costume. I am thinking specifically of the head pieces for the chorus girls, and the pieces for ‘Springtime for Hitler’.
Jordan Dittmann led an effective stage team, that largely hit all of their marks. The best of the scene changes were done by the cast, or were done when a cast member was pulling focus away from the staging. I would have liked to see more of that happen, as there were a few changes that lagged, leaving the audience sitting in the dark for too long considering the cracking pace of the rest of the show. Overall though, a well managed stage.
The lighting, designed by Alan Nutley, was mostly well put together. There were some dark spots left on the stage that the actors often got lost in. There were also some consistency problems on the night with timed changes being slightly off cue, detracting from what could have been a very tight effect. Overall there were some wonderful effects used, plenty of splashy colour and light bulbs giving it a very Broadway feel.
The sound design and operation (David Sowdon) did not have a great night. In addition to the orchestra sounding muffled and suppressed, there were constant microphones crackling and popping (Rose and Thia suffered from this for a vast quantity of the show), a seeming total lack of balance between chorus members (the usherettes were totally out of balance during both of their sequences), and actors starting their dialogue or song when their microphone was still off. These problems will no doubt fix themselves up as the season progresses, but it was needlessly detracting from the stellar work that was going on onstage.
Savoyards have produced a cracked great night at the theatre. The Producers is a night guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and will thoroughly shock yourself that you did. It is irreverent, rude, and draped in sequins in the way only a Broadway show can be. The only thing left to do, is to go book your ticket. The Producers is on at the Iona Performing Arts Centre and runs until October 7th.