Opening night of Altitude Theatre’s production of The Producers sees the Brisbane Powerhouse foyer filled with a red carpet, media wall and much excitement in anticipation of failure. Such is the story of fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Matt Young), who stumbles upon a seemingly failsafe scheme to profit from a flop. In partnership with timid accountant Leo Bloom (Mark Hill) and with the help of some farcical, yet unaware characters, he sets upon a scam to produce what they hope will be the biggest failure in the history of commercial theatre.
The record 12 Tony Award-winning musical comes from comic genius Mel Brooks’s adaptation of his own cult movie from 1968. Original Broadway and later 2005 movie stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick make for some big shoes to fill, but Young and Hill do so with aplomb. Young makes his energetic performance appear effortless and Hill’s anxious, awkward Leo immediately engenders audience affection. Much humour comes from the duo’s timing and together they perfect this. Rachael Ward is sublime as jiggly dancer and receptionist at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, especially in her enticing “When You Got It, Flaunt It” impromptu office audition.
Director and choreographer Joseph Simons’s vision is polished, allowing the cast to push their eccentric performances to their full potential. Particular mention should go to Patrick Conolly, playing wonderfully camp and eccentric ex-Nazi show writer Franz Liebkind, dressed in lederhosen and a German Army helmet. James Lee plays flamboyant and critically panned theatre director Roger De Bris, chosen by Bialystock in an attempt to ensure that the show Springtime for Hitler will flop.
The often politically incorrect humour of The Producers draws on overblown accents, caricatures and theatre/showbiz jokes. Josh McIntosh’s art deco design elements flavour the aesthetic and swift set transitions help to hold momentum as set pieces are choreographed. Jack Scandrett’s sound design is crisp and Ryan McDonald’s lighting works well.
Even with repeat viewings, The Producers provides abundant opportunities to see things anew. Under Jacqui Devereux’s musical direction, each song’s distinctive musical character is highlighted. With strong vocals, each song could be considered a highlight … until the next one comes along. “I Want to be a Producer”, for example, in which Leo sings of his secret desire to leave the drudgery of accounting, meets with huge audience response.
“The reviews come out a lot faster when the critics leave at intermission,” Max reflects after opening, and also closing, night of Funny Boy, a musical version of Hamlet. Thankfully, that is far from the case in this instance. Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production is a triumph, highly deserving of the standing ovation it received.
The Producers is showing at Brisbane Powerhouse from March 4 – 13
For more of Meredith Walker’s theatre reviews, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane.