The Producers starts new era

Keiron PimMonday night sees the curtain come up on the first show under David Pulling's chairmanship of Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. He tells KEIRON PIM why they went for something a little different this time around.More about Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society.Keiron Pim

Monday night sees the curtain come up on the first show under David Pulling's chairmanship of Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. He tells KEIRON PIM why they went for something a little different this time around.

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When David Pulling took over as chairman of Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society, he could have been forgiven for wanting an easy option for the first show during his tenure. A tried and tested family favourite: maybe an Andrew Lloyd Webber or a Gilbert and Sullivan, packed with songs that would have the audience singing along and with no risk of anyone being confused or offended.

By the time two dozen Nazi storm-troopers dancing in swastika formation take to the stage on Monday night, it will be apparent that the society hasn't gone down that route and instead is placing trust in its audience to embrace something a bit different.

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The Producers is Mel Brooks' brilliantly black musical comedy about two New Yorkers who realise that they if they attract enough funding up front, they might be able to make more money from staging a show that closes swiftly than one that has a long run. Failing producer Max Bialystock and his accountant sidekick Leo Bloom need to ensure their show will flop - and they think they've found the perfect candidate in pigeon-keeping ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind's paean to the Fuhrer, Springtime for Hitler.

The Producers began life in 1968 as a film, then in 2001 it switched to the stage and became the toast of Broadway, and in 2005 it was filmed again. The musical has toured the world, picked up every award going, and now it is coming to Norfolk. Is Norfolk ready? David admits he and his colleagues had their reservations.

'We were actually approached by the rights-holders, Josef Weinberger Ltd, and asked whether we would be prepared to become one of only a dozen or 18 companies throughout the country they deemed big enough and good enough to carry the production off,' he says.

'It was put to our committee and all of us, I must admit, initially had doubts about whether The Producers would work in Norwich. We had doubts about whether we as a company were big enough and strong enough to carry it off, because it is such a huge show.

'After a couple of months of debating, we talked to the Theatre Royal to see what their opinion of it was, and with their backing we decided that we would go for it, we would risk it, we'd try to cast it, we'd find a director for it, and try something that's completely new for the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. And I daresay, completely new for Norwich - I don't think Norwich has ever seen anything quite like this show.'

There is a cast of almost 50, a 23-person professional orchestra and another 30 or so people backstage ensuring that the show looks up to West End standards. Only Norfolk-based actors are used: Nick Bird and Laurence Guymer play Bialystock and Bloom, Holly Graham is the Swedish blonde actress Ulla and Adrian Wright is Roger De Bris, the extremely camp director of Springtime for Hitler. Many of the actors have featured in past productions but there are also some new faces. One man who has been a regular over the last decade but will be absent from the stage this time is David, who will be enjoying front of house duties and then sitting back to watch the show. It should be quite a spectacle.

'We are putting on a full-scale Broadway production. We've got professional sets that come from the West End, professional costumes, we've got hundreds of wigs coming. We've got 24 tap-dancing storm-troopers in the swastika formation, we've got 26 tap-dancing little old ladies with Zimmer frames. It is honestly going to be an extravaganza.

'There are three really big musical numbers: Springtime for Hitler, Along Came Bialy, and I Want to Be a Producer, that needed to come across as being Broadway production numbers. We have been breaking them down again and putting them back together so that everything is as clean as crisp as we can make it.'

When David was elected as chairman of the operatic society he took over from Coral Newell, who had held the post for 16 years and been associated with the society for half a century. The society is 85 years old - its first production was Dorothy, which ran from December 7 to 12 at the Theatre Royal. All these years on the relationship with the theatre remains intact, and David pays tribute to the theatre's staff and the years of hard work put in by Coral Newell.

'I must say when I took the job on in September I never realised how much there was to do. There is a lot to do, but it's all good stuff.'

t The Producers, Norwich, Theatre Royal, February 1-6, �16.50-�5, 01603 630000,

More about Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society.