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The Producers (Susan Elkin reviews)

Performance Preparation Academy – PPA

The Producers is an ideal choice of show for students in vocational training. It’s an entertaining book, beautifully written and brimful of interesting character parts so there’s plenty for everyone to do. And co-directed by Lewis Butler, who also choreographs and Nick Charters who also MDs, it becomes a strong showcase for talent of which there is plenty in this cast.

The piece works because it’s the theatre industry sending itself up. For anyone unfamiliar with the plot: two men decide that they can, if they cheat a bit, make more money out of a Broadway flop than a hit. Inevitably their attempt to stage a spectacular dud misfires and gets rave reviews. Along the way are a whole raft of engaging subplots.

Jordan Harrison is very watchable and the central character Max Bialystock. He is versatile and funny and his role is well sustained and skilfully developed to the end. I particularly admire his stillness in the court scene and his effective comic timing. His singing isn’t great but he holds his own.

Charles Camrose has enormous fun as the absurdly camp director/actor Roger de Bris. It’s outrageously funny but also carefully balanced especially when he’s ridiculing Hitler in the show which goes right but isn’t meant to. Jack Oliver is a fine, elegant Carmen Ghia, Roger’s lover and grounded sidekick. And Zak Lawrence squeezes every possible drop of humour out of the crazy Hitler-loving, pigeon-fancying playwright, Franz Liebkind.

Some roles are played by different actors at other performances because this graduating cohort is a large group of 35 students.

There is an occasional problem with diction. Mel Brooks’ words are glitteringly witty – as good in their way as WS Gilbert’s – and the audience should hear every single one of them. Delivery needs to be a little crisper than it sometimes is.

I know bands are pricey but this show would have done even greater justice to Mel Brooks’ fine score (with its references to Wagner, the German National Anthem, Irish dance, Rule Brittania and much more) if it had been accompanied by live music. And while we’re on the subject of music why, oh why, didn’t someone who knows coach Jack Osmond in how to how to hold a violin convincingly? As the blind fiddler, he is otherwise strong in the role so it’s a shame for it to be marred by a technicality.

 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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