The Producers is one of the best examples of Mel Brooks comic genius in every element of concept, dialogue, music and lyrics. Although an acquired taste, his ability to take humour to the very edge of sanity/social acceptability while bringing his audience with him is almost without equal and is at the heart of The Producers.
Last night Nottingham Operatic, under the expert direction of Lisa, Stephen and Jon in the orchestra pit, delivered a production that brought out all of Mel Brooks comedic genius, impeccable timing, wonderful showstoppers and costuming that caused me at one point to almost spit out a mouthful of coke as I was laughing soo hard.
I was lucky enough to see the Producers in it’s opening run in London over 10 years ago with Nathan Lane and Lee Evans in the roles of Bialystock and Bloom and in many respects the Nottingham Operatic production was it’s equal in terms of energy, lighting, set and choreography. It was, however, in comedic timing throughout the talented principals and ensemble, that last night was in all honesty superior to the London debut production. The thing about great ‘Non Paid’ theatre is that no-one is going through the motions, the short run of the production ensures that all acting and backstage crew put all their energies into delivering the best that they can be and all involved in The Producers should be proud of what they have achieved in every single aspect of this show.
Simon Theobald and Mark Coffy-Bainbridge were outstanding as Bialystock and Bloom providing the central driving force of the production in both their individual performances but also in their empathy and understanding of each other’s characters and the rest of the principals. They delivered Big Characters without every overacting or upstaging which is a rare skill and there are just too many highlights in their performance to mention.
Amanda Bruce provided just the right level of naivety to her portrayal as Ulla and certainly dominated the stage in her delivery of ‘When you got it, Flaunt it’. Ian Pottage brought exactly the right level of absurdity to Franz Liebkind throughout the night bringing some great character arc that made Franz more three-dimensional than I have seen before. Joanne-Lale’s Hold-Me-Touch-Me was a wonderful comic creation and Joanne’s timing in her scenes, especially with ‘Max’, were judged perfectly.
Dan Armstrong had the tough job of making Roger De Bris more than an over the top, overly camp caricature and must be congratulated on achieving this in spades. His, at times, understated and at other times, full-bore characterisation, made the audience believe how ‘Springtime for Hitler’ could be a success on Broadway enabling us all to suspend disbelieve and accept this key plot element. Dan was very ably supported by Jarrod Makin throughout the night and by Rob Harrison, Paul McPherson, James Murray and Aston Fisher especially in ‘Keep it Gay’ and indeed my hat goes off to Rob for his many cameo performances throughout the night each of which had their own inimitable style.
The 32 strong ensemble brought huge amounts of life and vitality to the whole production delivering great harmonies, key cameo lines, sometimes in amazing costumes, with great gusto be they theatre guests, Nazi Stormtroopers, Rio Carnival attendees or the Village People..
Sound balance between pit and stage and character diction were both superb and the lighting was outstanding throughout the night accommodating changes in major staging elements effortlessly, as did the stage crew who ensured that the pacing of the production never faltered through the many changes required.
Costuming was again faultless and the work Stephen and Joe had obviously done of vocal development during the rehearsal period was evident in every performer, principal and ensemble alike.
Lisa Lee – you have delivered a great piece of theatre – many congratulations!”
I could easily sum up this entire show with three words, “Everything was phenomenal”, but that would be no fun, and an insult to the hard work and dedication that has clearly gone into ‘The Producers’.
Let me start by saying that I had to double-check (or rather, triple-check) that I had actually just seen an amateur dramatics group after seeing this show. There was literally nothing about this production that I would consider to be amateur in any way, shape, or form. Everything was on point.
It has opened my eyes to just how good amateur theatre can be, made me feel ashamed of everything that I’ve ever done onstage, and raised the bar impossibly high for any subsequent reviews I write. Nottingham Operatic Society’s ‘The Producers’ was a masterclass in how theatre should be done, and was even better than some professional shows I’ve seen in the past.
A huge amount of credit for this must go to Lisa Lee (Director AND Choreographer), who took what is already a fabulous show, brimming with energy and hilarity, and injected even more energy and hilarity. I had been slightly surprised to see someone taking on both directing and choreography (they’re two very different skills, after all), but this created an absolutely seamless transition between acting and dancing onstage. We’ve all been there the week before a show, with no idea how we’re going to start a big dance number (“I end the scene here, but start the dance over there, with no time and no ability to teleport.”), which can often be attributed to a slight miscommunication between Director and Choreographer. There is no possibility for lack of communication when these people are one and the same, and it showed in the way the show flowed. A simple conversation could transform into a big dance number without hesitation from the actors, and this created a show with absolutely zero jarring moments.
The choreography was mesmerizing to watch, with dancers weaving in and out of each other, the whole ensemble replicating each other’s’ moves with confidence and proficiency, and plenty to look out throughout all of the numbers.
And the directing was just as proficient. Lisa used every inch of the stage and beautiful sets to her advantage, reflecting the upbeat (and utterly bonkers) tone of the show perfectly. Not wanting to spoil the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I will just say that hilarity ensued from the use of every single prop and set piece; the pigeon coops, the zimmer frames, and the huge mirror that allowed us a bird’s eye view of one of the best moments of the show were particularly notable examples.
Now, whilst Lisa was pulling the strings (and pull them she did), it is important to congratulate the entire team behind her. When I said that this was a masterclass in theatre, that does not stop at the production. With too many names to mention (they fill more than half a page of the programme), I can’t do this team justice. As with the dancing/singing/acting, each and every scene change was seamless. Considering the scale of the set pieces on display (they were magnificent), it was by no mean feat that Ian McCarthy (Stage Director) and Michelle Smith (Stage Manager) managed their team to create scene changes that were swift and silent.
The costumes and makeup were also so good that I’ve been having trouble distinguishing who is who. I can’t believe that the people in this programme are the same people that were onstage.
To top all of this off, the lighting (Tom Mowat) and sound (Michael Donoghue) were impeccable. An absolute triumph, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an amateur production.
Tom’s lighting added extra layers to the scenes; with dim spotlights adding an uneasy sense of gloom to the accountancy firm, bright lights and colour washes adding an extravagant tone to the dance numbers, and the backdrops being brought to life with a hazy wash. The glorious set (have I mentioned how good the set was, yet?) came to life under the fabulous work on lighting.
Michael’s sound was sublime. I could hear every single word of dialogue, every single instrument, and every single harmony line. I think there might have been one or two absolutely minute glitches towards the end, but far from being a nuisance, they just served to highlight how exquisite the sound was throughout the rest of the show. Truly, music to my ears.
And it’s impossible to mention the sound without looking at two other very important members of the production team, Stephen Williams (Musical Director) and Jon Orton (Assistant Musical Director). When you don’t “notice” the music, you know something has gone incredibly right. Literally faultless. From the big show-stoppers, to the more intimate songs, the band never once intruded upon what was happening onstage, making it the perfect accompaniment. In addition to this, the harmonies (and singing in general) were beyond compare, showing how much work had been put in by the MDs.
Now that the production’s covered, we move onto the actors.
Our leading man, Simon Theobald (Max Bialystock) is not an amateur performer. I refuse to believe it. Better than most professionals I’ve seen, Simon’s performance as the deviant but loveable rogue theatre producer Max Bialystock was enthralling. Flamboyant and alluring, perverse and a just a little bit corrupt, every second he was onstage was a wonder. I found myself hypnotised by him, constantly flicking my gaze his way even when his character wasn’t part of the conversation. The reason for this inability to take my eyes off Simon was simple. He was living the role, truly embodying the character. Every inch of his body was thrown into the performance; his facial expressions never once showing us anything other than Max, his physicality never once showing us anything other than Max, and his voice never once showing us anything other than Max.
His performance was so full of energy and glee that you couldn’t help but grin like an idiot for almost the entire show. Each punchline was delivered with excellent timing, each song sung with such a high level of prestige, and each movement (dance or otherwise) delivered with grandiosity. As such a commanding presence onstage, it was easy to see why all eyes were on Simon (or rather, Max Bialystock).
This sentiment stretches across all of the cast members, as all were performing to an outstandingly prodigious level, but Simon stood out even amongst a cast of very talented actors.
In perfect contrast to Max Bialystock, was the gutless and socially inept public accountant Leo Bloom (Mark Coffy-Bainbridge). Similarly to Simon, Max embodied this role, with each movement being a carefully thought out projection of Leo’s inner struggles. His accent was marvellous, and he even managed to carry this over to his singing whilst still sounding wondrous (an incredibly difficult feat for any performer). Again, every punchline was perfect, with each and every word from Max delivered expertly. Probably the character with the biggest arc in the whole show, Max did an excellent job of showing us the changes within his character gradually and believably.
The two titular “Producers” were an absolute marvel.
Supporting the two producers as “secretary SLASH receptionist”, was Swedish hopeful singer/dancer Ulla (Amanda Bruce). As the object of both men’s desires, Ulla is sexy but sweet, lascivious but graceful.
Amanda played this sometimes dim-witted (but incredibly self-aware) character with great proficiency, and with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. It was easy to see why Ulla had our titular heroes falling over themselves, with Amanda’s every movement causing a chorus of angels to sing in the audience’s mind. She was also equally as good at delivering a punchline, with Ulla being one of the characters to absolutely obliterate the fourth wall on several occasions, and many a joke coming from her limited understanding of the english language.
Her singing was incredible as well, as she had a lovely tone to her voice. The only tiny gripe I had was that her hilarious accent was not always carried over to the musical numbers. As I said above, this can be incredibly hard to do whilst maintaining such a great level of singing. It didn’t draw away from her performance at all, especially as the voice that replaced it was as delightfully elegant as Amanda’s is.
Without revealing too much, the “Producers” are looking to put on one of the worst shows that broadway has ever seen, and stumble upon a gloriously offensive piece written by an absolutely bonkers, Hitler-loving german, Franz Liebkind (Ian Pottage). Ian was absolutely hilarious as the outrageously offensive (yet essentially farcical in nature) Nazi; with insane explosions of temperament whenever anybody spoke poorly of his beloved dictator, and an almost endearing love for the Third Reich. His accent was also comically played with tongue in cheek, and it remained throughout all his numbers. This did drawback ever so slightly from his vocal performances, but with this character it really doesn’t matter. The gruff and obscene german was played beautifully.
Now for my favourite character; the fabulously gay but woefully inept theatre director, Roger De Bris (Dan Armstrong). Almost channelling Rik Mayall at times, Dan is a comedic genius, taking what could have been an incredibly offensive character and making it hilarious from start to finish. From his introductory number, ‘Make It Gay’, to his spontaneous lead performance in the aforementioned worst show on Broadway, Dan had me literally crying with laughter throughout.
Roger was wonderfully backed up by Carmen Ghia (Jarrod Makin), a man who claims to be De Bris’ “common-law assistant”, but is very clearly his gay lover. As with Dan and Ian, Jarrod manages to bring and incredibly light-hearted performance to what could have been another offensive stereotype. Outrageously over-the-top and overflowing with innuendo, Carmen is another of the characters that will have tears streaming down your face. And once again, another actor who disappeared into his role both physically and facially. Well done.
Supporting these principals was one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen grace a stage. They supported the main cast wonderfully, and were regularly the reason for side-splitting laughter from the audience. Every single one of them had clearly put a lot of work into their characterisation, keeping the hilarity going even throughout the dance numbers.
In short, ‘The Producers’ was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Even some professional shows pale in comparison to this production. There is so much I want to talk about further, but really don’t want to spoil this uproarious show for anyone who hasn’t seen it before. It really does need to be seen to be believed, and you should most definitely go see it. Seriously, stop reading this and go buy a ticket now. If I could give this show a 6/5, I would. But, being as that’s a mathematical impossibility, it is rather begrudgingly that I award this show a meager 5/5. Well done all.
East Midlands Theatre
Reviewed by Phil Lowe
“This show is the worst thing this reviewer has ever had the misfortune to sit through! It should have closed at the interval it was so deplorably bad! Actually it should have never been staged in the first place!”
These are the warped hopes of would-be Broadway producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ wacky musical play The Producers. Together they plan to find the worst play ever written; hire the worst director in New York; raise two million dollars from a bunch of rich old ladies; hire the worst actors in New York and as they close on Broadway after the first night, run off with their two million to Rio. In the world of wacky comedies things never go to plan. In Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s hilarious bad taste musical you laugh your socks off as things go from bad to wurst.
Nottingham Operatic Society’s effervescent production of The Producers directed and choreographed by Lisa Lee is supremely professional, gloriously done and visually outstanding. The sets and costumes are just brilliant.Stephen Williams (musical director) and his orchestra are upbeat and note perfect. From the second that the usherettes (Cathy Hyde and Amanda Dixon-Smith) start to sing of the Broadway flop of Funny Boy you know we are in the confident musical hands of Nottingham Operatic Society.
Simon Theobald shines with supreme confidence in his demanding lead comedy role of former King of Broadway Max Bialystock and his interpretation of the patter song “Betrayed” is professionally executed as is his exuberant performance as a whole. Other notables in this play full of deliberate stereotypes are Ian Pottage as the comical Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind who threatens to burst out of his lederhosen any second whilst strutting around the stage praising Adolf ‘Elizabeth’ Hitler. Pottage seems to having huge fun in a role that needs to played big and bonkers. And he does!
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum we have a lovely comical performance from actor Mark Coffy-Bainbridge as downtrodden neurotic Leo Bloom, the accountant who dreams of being a Broadway producer. Coffy-Bainbridge has an understated warm charm, a fine singing voice and great presence on stage. His romantic partner Swedish beauty Ulla is portrayed with just the right mix of sweetly sexy, sassy style and just a bit nuts personality by the very watchable Amanda Bruce.
Only Mel Brooks could come up with a fictional play title ‘Springtime for Hitler: A Gay romp for Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden‘ and base the humour of the show on ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis and utilise many a show business in joke. The show features more than a dozen great musical numbers that are all done with style and gusto by the Nottingham Operatic cast. The choreography of the lustful grannies is inspirational as is the mirroring of a certain symbol in the song Springtime For Hitler.
Dan Armstrong is wonderfully OTT as Roger De Bris and comes into his own when fate casts him as Hitler in the show within the show. Jarod Makin is terrifically camp as Roger De Bris’s common-law assistant Carmen Ghia yet has a lightness of characterisation that has echoes of Niles in the US comedy Frasier. Percy the pigeon is astonishing in his small but significant role. He is certainly one to watch out for in future stage productions. He can say more with a flick of wing than some professionals. We hope he will not be tempted to fly off to West End stardom just yet.
The whole Nottingham Operatic Society cast appear to revel in this most lively of shows and each musical and comedy set brings out big applause and whoops of joy from the clearly delighted audience. It has some terrifically accomplished comic performances and great singing from the principles and chorus. If you like your musical comedy broad, naughty and full of the glitz of showbiz then this blaster of a show is not one to miss!
Interval at the Producers and I have to say I have never seen an amateur show as good as this. It is phenomenal. This is like watching a West End Show and more. There is just nothing to criticise it is just all perfect. How Nottingham Operatic have done this I don’t know!
I just love the show which I have never seen before! It is very funny with great songs and brilliant set pieces. Just seen a tap dance by a stage full of old ladies using Zimmer frames!! Previous to that a dance with all your favourite gay characters which was hysterically funny.
The leads are like perfect and so talented but the whole very large and talented cast is brilliant too. Previous reviews this week have been absolutely
correct. This is a bombshell of a success for this company.
There are some seats left come and get them. Incidentally there is much more to come – Spring Time for Hitler is about to hit Broadway and I can’t wait. There are still more people to insult I guess.
I haven’t laughed so much in ages or admired such brilliant theatricality. The orchestra – huge 22 piece sounds just brilliant and the sound and lighting is superb. What a set too. It is indeed huge but being handled with ease.
The bell is ringing so we had better get back. I don’t want to miss a moment! (David)
Post Show Report – Nottingham Theatre Royal – The Producers – Nottingham Operatic Society
“A triumph for Nottingham Operatic Society.”
Sorry this report is later than usual but the show finished at 10.25 so I thought it best to set off home and report from here.
Act 2 of this superb show continued in the same vein as Act 1. This has been quite an evening and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I need to say that this is the best amateur production I have ever seen. It was of a professional standard in all areas. I thought I was watching a Professional Touring company but probably with more in the cast!
I will be publishing my review tomorrow but for now I really would recommend that you go and see it as if you don’t you will probably have missed the best show of the year in the East Midlands.
That’s it for now. More theatre trips coming up soon.
A Triumph for The Nottingham Operatic Society
What can I say? This show is an absolute smash hit for NOS. I will stick my neck out by saying this is the best amateur show I have ever seen. It was of a professional standard in all aspects and a touring company could not have been any better. In fact, touring companies do not have as many people in the cast as there was on the stage tonight, in this sumptuous production.
In case you haven’t seen it before it is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, with lyrics written by Brooks and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman.
As in the film, the story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humour of the show draws on ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes. It is very funny and contains some very tuneful songs and large scale dance routines.
Simon Theobald was magnificent in the lead role of Max Bialystock, the first producer. It is hard to describe how good he was, both as an actor and singer. He would certainly not be out of place in a West End production. His performance was sheer perfection throughout and he received a big ovation at the end. The part he played was hugely demanding and he was on the stage for most of the time, showing a ceaseless energy and magnetic charisma. Mark Coffey–Bainbridge, who played Max’s would be co-producer, was the perfect partner, their on stage chemistry was simply terrific. Mark is a fantastic actor, singer and dancer and his physical comedy in this role was brilliant. He was a joy to watch, especially when he was racing around the stage in various forms of panic, which was quite often.
Amanda Bruce who played Ulla, The Swedish Secretary with an impossibly long name, has a lovely voice. She was very funny and engaging in the role, combining a sassy physical presence with beautifully delivered lines.
Also very worthy of high praise are Ian Pottage (Franz),
Dan Armstrong (Roger De Bris), Jarrod Makin (Carmen Ghia),
Rob Harrison (Bryan) and Joanne Lale (Hold Me). All of these important characters were highly amusing and their characterisations had been honed to perfection. Both physical and vocal mannerisms were sublime, making any scene they were in highly entertaining.
The superb ensemble, many of whom played small parts were:
Aadyl Muller, Adele Lee, Alison Hope, Amanda Dixon-Smith,
Antony Watson, Aston Fisher, Biba Tribensee, Cathy Hyde, Christine Boothe, Chris Sims, David Hargreaves, Drew Dennis,
Fay Springthorpe, Fiona McHugh, Frank Nicholson, Hatty Hollowell, James Murray, Janet Wootton, Justine Lee, Laura Ellis,
Laurel Fiddes, Louise Fiddes, Louise Johnson, Lucy Castle,
Luke Grainger, Matthew Finkel, Nick Smith, Paul Johnson,
Paul McPherson, Samantha Thorpe, Sam Jones, Sarah Millington. Well done to all.
Other stars of the show were the glorious set, very effective lighting (Tom Mowat) and very impressive and clear sharp sound (Michael Donoghue) that enabled us to hear every word that was said or sung, even when the 22 piece orchestra was playing at full volume.
Scene changes were swift and near invisible, so well done to Stage Manager Michelle Smith and her team.
The Director and Choreographer, Lisa Lee, did a brilliant job on this production. Her direction was tight and imaginative and every movement sequence was relevant, inventive and pleasing to watch. There were a number of big dance numbers that I enjoyed, but my favourite undoubtedly was “Springtime for Hitler.” This huge dance number was very well put together and danced brilliantly by the ensemble. The set used was incredible but you need to come to the show to see why.
The Orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of the Musical Director, Stephen Williams. The vocal standard of the cast was very high: months of work must have gone into achieving this exacting standard.
This was just such an enjoyable night at the theatre. I loved the show, including the very tuneful songs and was continually amazed at the very high standard of performance. Any keen fan of musical theatre needs to see this show before it finishes on Saturday. I think this may well be the best show of the year in the East Midlands and you wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?
The Producers is at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham