Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Producers – highly entertaining satirical teen production (BSPA at The MAC until Saturday 27 August)

You need to throw a lot of energy and confidence at a production of The Producers if you want the parody to shine out above the dark source of the comedy. There’s a fine line between sending up Broadway musical theatre and falling flat on your face making jokes about Hitler and Nazis. But the audience are in safe hands with the teenagers from BSPA (Belfast School of Performing Arts) and their summer production.

Broadway producer Max is nursing his wounds after his latest musical closes after one performance. But soon after, his apparently straightlaced accountant (who has deep-buried notions of becoming a producer himself) points out that a deliberate flop could be more lucrative than a critically acclaimed success. So Max’s army of old lady investors are exploited, the rights are secured to a sure-fire disaster, and a terrible director is signed up. With everything in place, what could possibly go wrong?!

The ebullient Shane Ferris thrives in the central role of Max, using and abusing all around him to make a financial return after a run of bad luck. If anything, Ferris could perhaps push Max to be more outrageous in his buffoonery and become even larger than life. Michael Nevin first walks into Max’s office as a bashful and nervous figure. The ticks and mannerisms of accountant Leo Bloom are spot on. But it’s the revelation of the artistic side to Leo Bloom that makes the performance so entertaining and fulfilling as Nevin flip flops between the two sides of his character with such apparent ease. The pair belt out a raft of pleasing duets and have great comic timing.

Grace Conroy makes a charming if deliberately stereotyped Swedish actress Ulla and develops a good chemistry with Bloom/Nevin – the pair’s ballroom dancing in That Face has real elegance – while Keris Dodds milks her Nazi sympathiser playwright character for every last laugh.

The Producers revels in Mel Brooks’ Jewish humour, innuendo and the inappropriate celebration of fascism. Choreographer Adam Ashford is masterful with the Springtime for Hitler show within a show: the revolving swastika dance is probably the key moment in the production when everything falls into place and the brilliant awfulness of Max and Leo’s doomed musical is revealed.

While the rehearsal time for summer productions is short, director Peter Corry has introduced pleasing flourishes to the scene changes (though I do wish someone had bought about double the width of material for the black net curtain) and the swarm of aging nymphomaniacs tap dancing with their strollers was genius in its invention and execution. In certain scenes, it all becomes a bit too screechy: something to watch out for in shows that demand such energy from the performers.

If I could change one thing it would be to find a way to ditch the pre-recorded music tracks and bring in a live band. With no orchestra pit under the MAC’s stage and cramped wings, it’s not really an option. But while the cast and crew confidently navigated the myriad of sound cues, real musicians would have injected even more life and vitality into the sure-footed and highly entertaining production.

The Producers finishes its short summer run at The MAC with two shows on Saturday 27 August. It’s well staged, highly entertaining, and ticket prices are great value.

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