The Down Under production of Mel Brooks’ musical comedy — the first outside North America — is, well, upside-down.
Playing to an opening-night audience soaked by a chilly fall rainstorm, the show’s supporting actors — Tony Sheldon, Chloe Dallimore, Bert Newton and Grant Piro — stole the show, relegating Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom to second fiddles.
Nonetheless, the facsimile of the original Broadway production, produced in Oz by SEL/GFO, delighted the Melbourne audience.
Sheldon, a third-generation thesp whose entree to showbiz came via the Nine Network’s iconic variety skein “The Graham Kennedy Show,” shone as Roger de Bris. His strong voice, enthusiastic warmth and seamless interplay with the other thesps, especially Piro, gave zing to “Springtime for Hitler” and “Keep It Gay.”
Dallimore’s Ulla also was especially strong. The leggy former ballerina’s nutty Swedish accent and flagrant sexuality were impeccable.
Similarly, Newton, a morning TV chatshow host and sidekick on “Graham Kennedy,” stepped up better than expected as Franz Liebkind. Visually reminiscent of John Banner’s Sgt. Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes,” Newton sang confidently and moved with impressive grace.
The same cannot be said of Tom Burlinson, who rose to fame 22 years ago as the rugged stockman lead in George Miller’s hit movie “The Man From Snowy River” before carving himself a lucrative niche as an acclaimed Frank Sinatra cabaret mimic.
Fair-haired and blue-eyed, Burlinson is approaching 50. His voice is one of the strongest in the ensemble (though shades of Frank were apparent in “That Face” and “Til Him”), but as budding Broadway producer Leo Bloom, he failed to convince. He appeared to be working hard; he played it bigger than the rest of the cast and lacked rapport with Livermore as Bialystock.
This lack of chemistry between the leads is the production’s biggest flaw. Solo, Livermore was a revelation. Though his voice is not as strong as it once was, he moved with terrific ease and fluidity and looked startlingly like Nathan Lane’s Bialystock.
Will Bialy and Bloom play in a city whose only exposure to Broadway culture is via the movies? In a country that recently shut down “The Full Monty,” “Footloose” and “Man of La Mancha”? And with a cast with scant personal knowledge of the comic style in question?
Judging by the response so far, probably.