Sunday, 15 July 2012

Keep it gay

Musical –
The Producers
Producer/Company –
The Production Company
Venue –
State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
Date and time –
Saturday, 14 July 2012, 7.30pm
Cast includes –
Wayne Scott Kermond, Brent Hill, Christie Whelan, Trevor Ashley, Mitchell Butel and Rohan Browne.
Crew –
Directed by Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant. Musically directed by Vanessa Scammell. Choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth

This is The Production Company’s fourteenth season presenting semi-staged musicals at the Victorian Arts Centre. Each year, they mount three productions: a popular show, a somewhat well-known show, and a lesser-known show. In 2012, they begin their trilogy with ‘The Producers’, continuing in August with ‘Chess’, followed by ‘Promises, Promises’ in October.

‘The Producers’ is a Mel Brooks musical based on his 1967 film of the same name. It swept the Tony Awards in 2001 with a record twelve Tony Awards. The show played for six years on Broadway, followed by successful seasons and tours in London, and an Australian tour in 2004/2005. It also became a Hollywood film in 2005, with several of the original Broadway cast returning to their original roles.

The show is a laugh-a-minute romp in the style of the golden era of Broadway musicals. The plot of ‘The Producers’ is paper-thin – two producers staging an awful show so that they can decamp to Rio with the show’s capital – but it is full of heart and good humour.

Wayne Scott Kermond takes the lead as Max Bialystock, the ‘King of Broadway’. Kermond, Australia’s answer to the legendary Donald O’Connor, is a consummate song and dance man with a huge flair for stage buffoonery. He is paired with the talented Brent Hill who, while perhaps not the very strongest vocally in the role, brings great warmth and compassion to his characterisation of the introverted accountant, Leo Bloom. Between then comes the lovely Christie Whelan, who gives a winning performance as the sultry yet simple, Ulla.

While the central triangle of these performers is more than enough fodder for humour in this show, the greatest hilarity lies in the performances of the supporting principals, many of whom stop the show cold with their hysterical interpretations the roles. Trevor Ashley as Franz Liebkind lends an appropriately over-the-top inappropriateness as the writer of the musical-within-a-musical being staged: ‘Springtime For Hitler’. Directing ‘Hitler’ ­– and going on as the eponymous lead ­– is Mitchell Butel as Roger De Bris, the gayer-than-laughter director of the show, supported by his ‘common law assistant’, Carmen Ghia, played with great campery by Rohan Browne.

The Production Company’s shows are staged mostly without fly-in sets and backdrops. Instead, tiered and stepped platforms are used, along with various props, to suggest settings. This worked particularly well for ‘The Producers’, given that it is mainly set in an office and in a theatre. The costumes were also suitably glamourous, with the showgirls being outfitted by noted Melbourne ‘gender illusionist’ (read: drag queen), ‘Paris’. A constant of The Production Company is their high quality orchestras, and this show was no exception. The orchestra lent the appropriately full and brassy Broadway sound needed.

Production Company shows are notorious for their short, intensive rehearsal periods. The entire ensemble and supporting cast of ‘The Producers’ is therefore to be commended for the quality of this production. In particular, audiences were treated to many almost fully-realised choreographed numbers throughout the show, all of them energetic and highly engaging.

I have been attending The Production Company’s shows for more than ten years now and they are always high quality productions. In the last couple of years, though, they haven’t quite scaled the heights of their previous seasons. But ‘The Producers’ marks a return to form for them in its polish, energy and pizzazz. I look forward to the rest of their 2012 season.

Homo hilarious
(The Abusicals two-word summary is, of course, tongue-in-cheek.)

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