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The Producers (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Producers
Adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’s 1967 film of the same name, with lyrics written by Brooks and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman.
society/company: Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association (CODA)
performance date: 18 Sep 2019
venue: Ashcroft Playhouse, Fairfield Halls, Park Lane, Croydon CR9 1DG

Croydon’s local community company, CODA, really rises to the challenge of staging the first show in Ashcroft Theatre (Playhouse) in the week in which Fairfield Halls – at last – reopened amidst much razamataz. Mel Brooks at his best, The Producers is a very entertaining show and it’s good to see a strong company running with it so adeptly and, clearly, having a lot of fun.

Famously two men, one an established Broadway producer and the other a wannabe, devise a scam whereby they stand to make a lot of money from deliberately staging a spectacular flop. So they choose an outrageously daft camp musical about Hitler and of course it’s a huge hit. The well-paced piece is full of good songs and self mocking theatrical jokes.

Kevin Gauntlett (we see quite a lot of him in this part of south London) is a very reliable Max Bialystock. He’s convincingly New York, sings a resonant bass line and commands the stage whenever he’s on it. And the tiny scene towards the end when he drops briefly out of role is perfectly judged and very funny. Dominic Binefa is a fine foil as the contrasting Leo Bloom. The recurrent childish hysteria is nicely managed and he sings beautifully. The two lead men play off each other effectively and I like their duet work.

Peter Davis is clearly enjoying himself as the absurdly camp Roger De Bris and Mark Storey is good value as his slender, skipping, simpering sidekick. Megan Claridge has a lovely singing voice as Ulla (I can’t be bothered to type her eight-barrelled name) and Thomas Skinner makes the very best of the strutting, posturing, childish Franz Liebkind who also gets some gloriously silly songs. That’s the joy of The Producers: it’s full of fabulous character roles.

Among a strong ensemble cast (wittily watchable choreography by Aimee-Marie Bow), who emerge to play dozens of minor roles I noted Tyrone Hayward in particular. He’s a lithe dancer.

Full marks too to the thirteen-piece band in the pit, conducted by MD, Joshua Hicken. The sound is excellent and there’s particularly lovely work from Dave Shaw on violin and trumpeters Giles Straw and Jacob Phillips.

It’s a pity, though that – good as the sets by Scenic Projects Ltd of Lowestoft, Suffolk are – that there are too many clunky scene changes. At one point there’s a quite long gap where nothing happens except a lot of banging and dragging behind the downstage curtain. When it finally lifted the audience which was beginning to get restive, applauded at the performance I saw. It felt very ‘am-dram’.

And I was a bit disappointed with the venue. I expected the changes at Fairfield Halls to be much more radical, given the length of closure. In fact, although it’s light, bright and refurbed in the main foyer, once you get into the Ashcroft Theatre little has changed except that part of the centre aisle has gone to make way for more tightly packed seats (and more income?). The seats themselves have not been replaced and are still threadbare in places. As Kevin Gauntlett comments ruefully from the stage: “It’ll be nice when it’s finished.”

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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