Based on the film of the same name, The Producers is a story of two Broadway producers setting out to deliberately create a flop in the form of guaranteed-disaster ‘Springtime for Hitler’. The production by Edinburgh University’s Savoy Opera Group was brilliantly enthusiastic, but was ultimately hindered by lack of space and tech issues.
The cast are undeniably extremely talented. The lead duo Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, played by Max McLaughlin and Rob Merriam respectively, have excellent on-stage chemistry, which makes their dynamic believable. Merriam’s physicality is especially strong. He flails around the stage like an anxious Pinocchio, all limbs and big dreams. His relationship to Ulla (Georgia Rodgers) is delightfully absurd; her farcical Swedish accent and her incredible voice both contribute to our enjoyment of their bond.
Indeed, the physical presence of the cast was clear throughout. Visual gags stuck well, and dance routines were evidently well-rehearsed. The ensemble were equally impressive. They go from passersby to aspiring stars, and then to sexually frustrated old ladies, and on to astonishingly camp production assistants to Roger Debris (Taliah Horner). The costumes department must be commended here: the range of costumes, colours, and roles are spectacular. I kept expecting them to run out of outfits, but they just keep coming!
The comic aspect is overall successful; little gags peppered throughout keep the audience laughing and energy levels high. Some jokes don’t land too well, but the cast roll from moment to moment without faltering. The musical numbers are hilarious as well, with ‘That Face’ and ‘Keep It Gay’ being clear crowd favourites. I wonder, however, whether perpetuating a trope that uses homosexuality as a punchline isn’t a little passé. Still, the crowd enjoyed it, and their energy was infectious, so I suspended my political correctness and laughed along (Gordon Stackhouse’s Carmen Ghia was particularly good).
Ultimately, this is the point of the production: it’s problematic on purpose, and isn’t ashamed of it. Theatre might ordinarily shy away from bedazzled Nazi armbands, or an entire musical number about something two grannies short of an elderly prostitution ring. The play asks us why we place societal filters on such things. If we’ve learned anything from our beloved world leaders, it’s that the best way to combat political despair is to laugh at it. EUSOG’s production does just that.
Sadly, this was impeded by the size of the stage, and some tech issues. The live orchestra, while stunning, often drowned out the singers, and fell out of tune with one another more than once. Further, the iconic human swastika (what a phrase) from the film is all but invisible thanks to space restrictions. The play’s ebullient size is squashed into too small a space, and while this is no fault of the actors, it distracts from the overall effect.
Some of the actors are also somewhat two-dimensional in their performances. Will Peppercorn’s Franz Liebkind starts out hilarious in his ‘overly-Germanness’, but his monotone yelling becomes grating by the end of the night. Yet at a hefty two and a half hour running time, the fact that the audience still leapt to their feet to applaud the team is testament to the soaring enthusiasm and dedication that ran throughout.
Overall, the production was slick and clever, taking a well-loved film and transforming it into a whirlwind of music, tap dancing, and fourth-wall breaks. The cast are impressive in the equal strength of their singing and dancing; the production team skilfully executed their vision. It’s clear that the team enjoyed every second. With a bigger space and better-balanced microphones, this production could be flawless.
PHOTOS: Gavin Smart