It is initially difficult to decide how one is supposed to review DEM Production’s rendition of The Producers, running at the Oxford Playhouse. Does one think of it as a student production, which inherently it is, or a professional show, which it certainly looks like? The Playhouse was almost completely sold out; middle aged couples were discussing the news, elderly ladies were slowly harrowing through, ice cream was sold in the interval. However one looks at it, it appears as a professional production. This was matched by the orchestra, on premier night, a fabulous selection of musicians performing with real vigour and flare. Not a single note missed, not a single sound ruffled. Nor are the actors apparently amateur. Each one is talented, well cast, even better rehearsed. They sing, dance, and swim in the glamour of this ambitious production.
Perhaps the only time one noticed that this is after all a student production was due to the occasional clumsiness of the actors as an ensemble. Each one had learned their lines, understood their character, behaved like him and spoken like him, but they occasionally struggled to understand one another. The big pieces in the first half lacked cohesive uniting moments with everyone moving as one. The second half, however, picked up beautifully and by the grand masterpiece ‘Springtime for Deutschland’, we had all forgotten who was who.
The Producers is an ambitious project for any top-of-the-curve producers and directors. Tracking the attempts of accountant Leo Bloom and ex-Broadway producer Max Bialystock to produce the worst play ever written, it’s huge, explosive, scandalous and, most of all, given all the borderline offensive stereotypes, really difficult to make purely and entirely fun. This production, however, managed to achieve this – one rarely thought about the mockery of Nazism, the questionable ideas about homosexuality, or the painful stereotype of the bland and pretty Swedish woman with a particular dedication to the discussion about, and participation in, sex. For what the musical itself is, it is unapologetic, rude, offensive and perhaps a little dated. But this production managed to extract all the thoughtless fun of big numbers, jazz orchestra, great singing and tap dancing to make The Producers a great night out.
This was the biggest student production in Oxford and given the time, publicity, money, and sheer talent invested, it seemed quite difficult for the show to live up to expectation. With a wonderful leading duo, however, the cast and crew (more emphasis must be given here), achieved their aims. They were bold and flamboyant and as unapologetic as was required. It was particularly telling that the last 15 minutes saw the theatre smile in unison. The elderly ice-cream ladies were dancing on the sides of the stage, the young couples looked ever so cheerful. The Producers is not a lot of things. It’s not deep, thoughtful, or particularly profound. But thanks to the cast and crew of DEM Productions, what it does it does well. You may not leave with an interesting thought about the nature of human existence, but you certainly leave with a smile.