Producers packs a punch

Art & Lit Stage

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I come from California, and the first thing that comes to mind when faced with the prospect of an American musical in the UK is that the accents will be shocking. In order not to fidget all the way through a production of Mack and Mabel in south London last year, I had to convince myself the actors were speaking an extinct and camp regional dialect. But the first thing I noticed about the DEM Productions version of The Producers was its authenticity.

Max Bialystock (Jack Herlihy) sauntered onto the cleanly-designed set with all the half-genuine, half-self-conscious bearing of a loud-mouthed New York showbiz man, and let up neither in dialogue nor musical number. His particular triumph (and one of the show’s overall highlights) was his nostalgic melt-down in his prison-cell towards the end of Act Two; his time out for a glass of water was a nice comic touch by director Illias Thoms. The nervous Leo Bloom (Stephen Hyde) was, as is to be expected, shown in black-and-white contrast to his employer, rival and friend Bialystock, but equally as consistent and honest in his performance; his subdued physicality was completely true to character, and made him very charismatic on stage. The only issue in the scenes between the two leads was that it was occasionally hard to know which to focus on, as their levels of exuberance and style of performance were strikingly different. Nonetheless their exchanges, especially their physical comedy, had the whole audience in hysterics.

The dance and choreography were skilfully executed (and remarkably smooth for a first night performance); Ulla (Eleanor Shaw) dances – and sings – her part with impressive grace and facility. The 24-piece orchestra and vocally strong chorus added a level of professionalism to the production which is not common for student drama.

In some big productions, and in particular musicals, the ‘supporting’ roles can be easily eclipsed by the leads, but James Skinner as Roger de Bris in particular made a strong effort to stop that from happening. If he hadn’t been flamboyant before – and that wasn’t the thought on anyone’s mind – his metatheatrical title role in ‘Springtime for Hitler’ was farcical and highly entertaining (although at times he looked almost tranquil next to Carmen, effervescently played by Alex Wickens). Philip Rigley as Franz Liebkind had everyone laughing from the moment he started singing about Bavaria.

Altogether this ambitious production was boldly pulled off, with highly adept work by cast and crew on many fronts. Hopefully it will be a great jumping-off point for other similarly large-scale Oxford student shows to be produced in future.

The Producers is showing at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets are £12 for students and available here.