Friday, July 13, 2012


A Mel Brooks Musical 
Presented by The Production Company
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne,
Season 8th - 15th July 2012

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Brent Hill (Leo Bloom) Christie Whelan-Browne (Ulla) Wayne Scott Kermond (Max Bialystock)
Photo: Jeff Busby.

“It's shocking, outrageous and I enjoyed every moment of it”, quotes Max Bialystock from the reviews for “Springtime for Hitler”, the musical within a musical which caused his downfall in the Mel Brooks’ musical “The Producers”, and that exactly sums up my reaction to The Production Company's classy new production of this show.

In its fourteen years existence,The Production Company has made something of an artform of presenting “concert versions” of Broadway musicals. “Concert version” in the case of The Production Company means that the orchestra will be onstage with the actors, rather than in the orchestra pit, and that the sets are likely to be scaled back to accommodate this, but in every other aspect these are full-scale productions.

Top professionals are cast in the lead roles, the rehearsal periods are limited to no more than two to three weeks, and the seasons, as with “The Producers”, are usually just eight performances.

Having seen “The Producers” on Broadway, in Melbourne and Sydney, and even a good amateur production in Canberra,I was just a little dubious about seeing this “concert” version. However, having just recovered from laughing my way through opening night, I’m delighted to declare this, by far, the most entertaining production of this show that I’ve yet seen.

With a terrific cast and the addition of some easily-moved props and furniture, a very serviceable setting designed by Adam Gardnir, which has the onstage orchestra surrounded by staircases either side leading to a high walkway behind,a centre-aisle between the players, and vertical columns decorated with Broadway lights, directors Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant have worked wonders to devise a fast-moving production packed with clever visual gags, witty choreography and colourful costumes, all of which serve the show brilliantly.

 Wayne Scott Kermond (Max Bialystock) Brent Hill (Leo Bloom) Christie Whelan-Browne
Photo: Jeff Busby

The excellent cast is headed by Wayne Scott Kermond who gives the performance of a lifetime as Max Bialystock, the Broadway producer who gets it wrong when he produces a Broadway hit.

Kermond plays Max as an old time vaudeville-style shyster. His performance is big, bold and laced with old-time physical shtick rarely seen these days, but superbly executed and perfect for Max Bialystock. His comic timing and line delivery are faultless and from the very first number, “The King of Broadway”, he has the audience completely in the palm of his hand waiting on his every move. It’s a masterful performance, completely hilarious and ultimately moving in the final minutes of the show following Leo Bloom’s declaration of admiration.

By no means overshadowed by Kermond, Brent Hill, as Leo Bloom, offers a completely different style of performance, equally hilarious and skilfully dovetailing the partnership, as he progresses from nervous mummy's boy to the confident playboy- husband of the drop-dead gorgeous Ulla, played with sparkling style and panache by Christie Whelan-Browne.

Never one to let subtlety get in the way of a good laugh, Trevor Ashley gives a wonderfully outrageous and over-the-top performance as the crazy German playwright, Franz Liebkind. He also contributes an additional hilarious cameo as an over-weight showgirl earlier in the show.

Mitchell Butel also provides his fair share of mayhem, especially when his character, the (very) camp director, Roger De Bris, dressed as Hitler in his own show “Springtime for Hitler”, sits on the front of the stage to perform a Judy Garland impression. It’s one more memorable moments in a production laden with them.

 Mitchell Butel ((Roger De Bris) Christie Whelen-Browne (Ulla)
Photo Jeff Busby
Virgina Gray, notably as Hold-me Touch-me and in a series of other funny cameos, Dean Vince also playing cameo roles, and Rohan Browne, playing the impossibly camp Carmen Ghia, all add to the merriment.

Also on this occasion (to quote from another musical) “Even the orchestra is beautiful” because, adding even more icing to the cake, Musical Director, Vanessa Scammell, looked svelte and glamorous in her figure-hugging long black gown as she conducted the excellent twenty-three piece on-stage orchestra.

The production numbers are stylish, tightly choreographed and very well danced by a vivacious team of excellent dancers and the ensemble singing throughout is superb. The costumes are glamorous, attractive and witty, particularly those for the Ziegfeld Follies-style showgirls who also manage the smooth, cleverly organised set-changes.

I have no idea if a return season is being contemplated, or even possible, but this clever, entertaining production deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

The next Production Company musical will be “Chess” directed by Gale Edwards with a topline cast which includes Silvie Paladino, Martin Crewes, Simon Gleeson, Michael Falzon and Bert LaBonte. It will run from August 18th to 26th.  You might be wise to make a booking.