Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Guildford’s Performance Preparation Academy
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
I thought this was a very ambitious play to tackle as Mel Brooks’s style of humour is occasionally, to my mind, quite ridiculously silly, but as usual the students prove their worth and cope exceedingly well, even managing to rise above the excessive volume of the music which must be an extra strain on the vocal chords.
The story, briefly, is of Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer, teaming up with his accountant, Leo Bloom, to get investors (in this case sex-starved wealthy little old ladies) for a show which is bound to be a flop in which case they won’t have to give back the money.
As Max Bialystock, Jordan Harrison kicks off the show with "The King of Broadway", regretting how he’s come down in the world. In this song, very long, very fast and competing with the music, I felt a little of the comedy was lost, perhaps in timing and/or intonation, but after this very slight niggle his performance is spot on: singing, excellently portraying the character, and some dancing. One incident which is still making me laugh is the way, as Bialystock, he tripped and fell very dramatically with horrified shock at the idea of putting his own money into the show.
Jordan Newman’s Leo Bloom, once he gets past his ‘blue security blanket’ and finishes being “in pain, wet and still hysterical” (a scene that I think no one but Gene Wilder could pull off with any vestige of credibility), settles down to being a real person with ambitions to rise above his boring, demoralising accounts job and his "I Wanna Be a Producer" is full of feeling, longing, hope, and finishes with pathos at the realisation that this is unlikely. Newman is pretty hot in the tap routines too.
Joining the two men is Keeley-May Clarkson as ‘wannabe’ starlet Ulla who decorates the office Scandinavian style and entertains them with a little sexy wiggle of a dance, but this lady is a class act, tall, long-legged and elegant. She has her days meticulously planned—and always has sex at 11 o’clock.
The producers manage to find their script Springtime for Hitler (something to offend everyone) with Austrian Franz who is completely off his rocker. Zak Laurence plays this character for comedy for all he’s worth and has the audience in fits of laughter, and then the script goes to director Roger de Bris, played in a gorgeous black gown by a quite hefty Charles Camrose. I loved his facial expressions from coy to simpering and he can certainly dance too, even in high heels. He and his effete partner (Jack Oliver) insist that they "Keep it Gay"—a terrific and very happy song and dance routine—there is something for everyone in this show.
There are about thirty-five in the cast and numerous very diverse characters, but I think that almost all of them, at some point, were playing little old ladies, whose tap dance with Zimmer frames is a hoot and the ladies as the jury in the court room scene are a delight too as they chat among themselves, show each other pictures or distractedly yawn with boredom.
Harrison and Newman are on stage for almost the whole show. There are tremendous demands on their stamina as well as performance and they rise to the challenge like real troupers. I am always amazed at the talent, expertise and dedication shown by the hardworking students and this production is no exception. Very enjoyable and admirable in every way.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor