With Melbourne still in the depths of winter, The Production Company’s season opener, The Producers, proved brief respite from the chilly outdoors. The Arts Centre played host to the musical, and was transformed to scenes of springtime in Germany, where swastikas became fashionable accessories and the resurgence of Hitler was accompanied by a chorus of leggy showgirls. The Producers, created by Mel Brooks, is a classic. Centred on the travails of a failing Broadway Producer, it follows his efforts to become filthy rich by creating the worst Broadway musical ever. The musical, against all odds and efforts, is a smash hit.
The Production Company’s interpretation of the musical was high energy, with characters behaving as devastatingly satirical caricatures of themselves. Christie Whelan as Swedish bombshell Ulla was a standout; the unlikely relationship between her and accountant-turned-Producer Leopold Bloom was synonymous with the theme of unlikely success that is central to the musical. Wayne Scott Kermond as Max Bialystock was similarly excellent, successfully parodying Broadway stereotypes.
The set design for the piece was impeccable; the set was unashamedly high voltage, literally so near the conclusion when a huge swastika was illuminated on the backdrop. Costumes were similarly vibrant, and it was clear that the directors, Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant, wanted to create an aesthetic as irreverent as the storyline.
The Producers dabbles in dangerous territory with its tongue-in-cheek celebration of Nazi Germany and caricatures of homosexuals. Often, in today’s stiflingly politically correct climate, black comedy such as this is resigned to the ‘too offensive’ basket. There is a case to be made for politically incorrect jokes causing offence and normalizing important issues. However, exploring delicate issues through comedy can also create dialogue and lead to social progress, or in the case of Nazi Germany, reconciliation with the past.
The Producers sets out with a simple goal: to entertain through parodying one of the largest sectors of the entertainment industry. It is loud, camp and politically insensitive. It is also hilarious. Through virtue of the fact that The Producers elicited near non-stop laughs from the audience it is arguable that, through comic exploration of social issues, it managed to navigate the minefield of political correctness and remind us that, sometimes, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves.