Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society doesn’t shy away from challenging material.
As well as crowd-pleasing hits like last year’s Sister Act, the society has previously taken on darker, more adult material like Sweeney Todd and The Witches of Eastwick.
Now HAODS is tackling Mel Brooks’ bizarre, satirical musical The Producers, which joyfully flirts with controversy.
It’s a difficult balancing act to pull off: presenting a tale about characters putting on the most offensive stage show of all time, but making you laugh at its sheer bad taste instead of just being offended yourself.
The singers and actors of HAODS do this very well, offering a night of incredulous laughter and smart comedy with a veneer of silliness.
The plot is simple: washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock and timid accountant Leo Bloom team up to make $2million with a theatrical scam.
They realise that by overselling shares of a guaranteed flop to gullible old ladies, they can pocket the money when the show fails.
So the pair set out to find a musical that is sure to close on opening night by offending everybody, and they find it in Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.
But will the show be the biggest bomb ever, or will it do the unthinkable and succeed?
Chris Dale is great as a the sleazy shyster Max Bialystock, nailing his New York accent and hitting all the verbal and physical comedy moments.
Whether he’s romancing elderly women, trying to manipulate a Nazi by performing ‘Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop’ or lusting after his Swedish secretary, Chris always ensures that Max is comically disreputable instead of unpleasant.
Michael Boucher seems to be expertly channelling Matthew Broderick’s performance as Leo Bloom, giving his character a nasally voice and weedy mannerisms that are both frustrating and endearing.
He presents a man worn down by the pressures of his job and easily tempted into crime as a means of escape.
His romance with Ulla, while played mostly for bawdy laughs, is also genuinely sweet.
Kat Merrick presents Leo’s exact opposite as Ulla, bringing to life a girl who is bubbly, confident and seemingly unaware of how cartoonishly attractive she is.
Kat does the wonderfully OTT accent well too.
Cameron Rowell is on fire as the deliriously camp director Roger Debris.
He presents a man so deluded by showbusiness and notions of his own brilliance, that he doesn’t think there might be something wrong about putting on Springtime For Hitler.
It’s a hysterical moment when Roger decides to don the moustache himself and appear onstage as the now rather flamboyant tyrant.Sam Berry is quieter but equally as camp as Roger’s assistant Carman Ghia, a finicky, pretentious luvvie with a penchant for the overdramatic.
Last but by no means least is Dominic Batchelor as the unhinged Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind.
He captures a man living in his own sad reality, obsessed with former glories that weren’t glorious, and desperately trying to be intimidating while only ever being idiotic.
And his only friends are fascist pigeons.
He’s the only character you’re encouraged to laugh at the whole time, unlike the others who you occasionally laugh with.
Maybe that’s why this musical comedy works: it uses humour with huge potential to offend but it understands who the true villains are and mocks them mercilessly.
The great slapstick, wordplay and songs help too of course.
‘I Wanna Be a Producer’, ‘Keep it Gay’ and ‘Springtime For Hitler’ are all knock-out moments thanks to the singing skills of the cast and the work of director Barrie Ward, musical director Neil Franks and choreographer Jackie Shepherd.
The lighting, costumes and sets are particularly impressive this time as well, capturing that distinctly brash Broadway glamour.
Overall, it’s a sharp, slick and satirical night out, and another successful risk taken by HAODS.