Mel Brooks The Producers succeeded on Broadway but fared less well when it eventually transferred to the West End and so it is a brave amateur company who embarks on a production of what is a technically demanding modern musical. Oxford Operatic are to be applauded for their determination and commitment to the project and their director, Ed Blagrove, must be commended for having the courage to co-ordinate such a major undertaking.
The Producers is very much a show that relies on a couple of star performances. Max (James Studds) and Leo (Andrew Stott) have enormous energy, confidence and charisma as the eponymous Producers. Studds is just a little short in the sleaze department to really convince as a Broadway producer but his bravura performance of Betrayed in the second act was a real show-stopping moment. Stott has a great likeability and warmth as a performer which helps the audience engage with the comic chaos of the plot.
All too often the orchestra at a musical only gets a mention when mistakes are made. Here I am happy to report that they are, probably, the best non-professional pit band I have had the pleasure to hear. Chris Payne brought out all of the humour in the score and kept the music flowing at a pleasingly brisk pace.
My main concern with the production is with the larger chorus scenes. I have noted with a number of previous Oxford Operatic productions that the chorus is very numerous and gets a lot of stage time. In many ways, this is very commendable. However it does mean that the stage is often over-full leading to a lack of clarity in the action and a rather fussy overall result.
Technically, the production has had a lot of attention lavished on it. The sets and costumes are everything that you might wish for. The sound balance was, however, less than ideal at times with lyrics and dialogue being lost from time to time. It may be that the venue is partly at fault here having experienced similar problems when reviewing professional musicals in the New Theatre.
Overall, this is a show packed with ambition and heart. It is not perfect but it is a damned good try. The audience on Friday night were clearly loving it so the hard work has clearly paid off.