‘The Producers’ was audacious.
In staging the Broadway classic hit ‘The Producers’ at Twelfth Night Theatre, Queensland Musical Theatre proved that no mountain is too high – and no topic off-limits – when you have a brilliant and outrageously funny script, sizzling dance numbers, a seriously talented cast and a production team willing to go all in to deliver a memorable extravaganza.
The story: Down on his luck Broadway producer Max (Tony Campbell) and his accountant Leo (Ray Gilmore) think they have found the golden goose: a plan to stage a production so bad that it will tank on its opening night, leaving them raking the money of unwitting investors – who happen to be Max’s numerous elderly love interests (ensemble).
The pair’s scheme goes pear-shaped when their chosen script – a musical tribute to Hitler concocted by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Byron Philp) and directed by flamboyant but hopeless Roger Debris (Steve Beck) turns out to be an accidental success. Max and Leo’s budding friendship will be further strained with the arrival of beautiful Swedish ingenue Ulla (Kate Retzki), whom they hire as a receptionist/secretary.
It’s a risky, audacious move for a community theatre company to tackle ‘The Producers’, a 1967 play that involves 30+ performers, a live 20-piece orchestra and a script that generously pokes fun at Hitler, gay people, women, and little old ladies.
Did they pull it off? You bet! ‘The Producers’ was an absolute hoot. The 500-seat venue was packed to the brim, and everyone was visibly having a great time.
Campbell was brilliant as despicable-yet-endearing Max, delivering a John Goodman-esque performance and delighting the crowd with a bravado solo when his character was marooned in a prison cell.
Philp proved another highlight by portraying the menacing and hilarious Franz, while Retzki stole every scene she was in as free-spirited bombshell Ulla. And let’s not forget Beck, with his operatic booming voice and camp depiction of Roger Debris.
Direction by Nathaniel Currie was spotless, with an army of performers cleverly moving on and off stage (no small feat considering the size of the cast). Currie made interesting blocking choices that worked hand-in-hand with gorgeous sets, daring costumes, lights and scene transitions that gave the show a professional feel.
On some occasions, the performances were let down by audio and other technical glitches. Thankfully, these were quickly eclipsed by all the fun and magic on stage.
One of the evening’s biggest highlights was the spectacular – and humour-packed – dance numbers choreographed by Julianne Burke. These were delivered by skilful and energetic dancers who dazzled with impressive jazz, ballet, tap dancing and even French can-can moves.
Another real treat was the live orchestra (under Benjamin Tubb-Hearne’s music direction), which not only supported the action on stage but lifted the quality of the show to the next level.
Overall, ‘The Producers’ was a thoroughly enjoyable show. The calibre, boldness and visible success were genuinely impressive. Kudos to Queensland Musical Theatre, a company that is punching well above its weight.
The tongue-in-cheek musical from a different era could have been a cringe-fest on so many levels, yet somehow it worked. We laughed and had so much fun, in large part due to the genius of Mel Brooks, whose farcical yet smart script has barely aged in almost 60 years and is in some ways even more relevant today.
‘The Producers’ performs until Sunday, 30 October 2022 at Twelfth Night Theatre. For more information, visit their website.