Mel Brooks’ smash hit, multi-award winning musical THE PRODUCERS, officially opened in Melbourne on 17 April 2004. Having had the privilege of seeing the show at the final preview performance the 16 th April, I was swept up by the hoopla and excitement of the official opening. The original film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder has always been a favorite of mine. I was relieved to see the stage musical receive the well-deserved critical acclaim bestowed upon it when it opened on Broadway. However, to this day the success of the Broadway production still seems to rest on the reputation and performance of its original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max and Leo. Without them in the show there has been a massive fluctuation in ticket sales.
I am pleased to say that is not the case with the Australian production of THE PRODUCERS . The Australian production of THE PRODUCERS has more star power than any other production of the show in the U.S., Canada or London. Reg Livermore as Max and Tom Burlinson are established Australian musical theatre performers recognised for their work on the stage, television and film. Add to this the talent of the old school of musical theatre and television performers Tony Sheldon as Roger Debris and Bert Newton as Franz Leibkind and the cast just keeps getting better. But wait, there’s more! The less familiar names in Australian musical theatre (until this production) of Grant Piro as Carmen Ghia and Chloe Dallimorë as Ulla virtually steal the show. What is left to sing praises about is the talent of the ensemble.
So here it is Tuesday, August 24, 2004 and I have just gone to see how the show is holding up during these difficult times for musical theatre around the world. I’m pleased to report that on second viewing I loved it even more. This show is an extension of the American musical theatre of the 1920’s and 30’s. Inspired by the wit of writers like George S. Kaufman, Herbert Fields and Guy Bolton and the words and music of George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart here is a show with a pedigree. In the 1920’s’ and 30’s Broadway musicals were produced on Broadway at the rate that new movies hit local cinemas every week today. This was the entertainment of the day. Sometimes deep and meaningful, sometimes satiric, sometimes just plain silly. The one thing all these shows had in common was humour, good songs and an entertaining night out. THE PRODUCERS delivers all this and asks nothing of its audience other than to have a good laugh and a good time. While musical theatre historians and aficionados can read what they like into the text and musical material, all Mel Brooks wants is for the audience to have a laugh at our selves and have a good time. The capacity crowd at the Princess Theatre on this Tuesday night did just that. What makes this show extraordinary is its ability to attract an audience across all age levels from teenagers to senior citizens with a traditional Broadway musical formula. There are no rock numbers, pop tunes or nudity in this show. In this day of the “jukebox musical” (shows based on songs from the catalogue of current pop music: “Mamma Mia”, “We Will Rock You”, “Saturday Night Fever”, “Movin’ Out”, “The Boy From Oz”, “Fame”, Footloose”), its rare for a musical with original music and lyrics to get produced in Australia.
My verdict: The cast, orchestra and crew of this production still play every performance as if it were opening night. The timing is sharp and the orchestra sounds great. THE PRODUCERS disproves the rumours that the “Broadway” musical is dead. These days it’s just very expensive to present. So get your tickets now to keep musical theatre alive in Australia.