The Producers (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, April 18th)
It’s outrageous, politically incorrect and probably offensive to residents of several countries but the stage musical version of Mel Brooks’ comedy movie The Producers is a jaw-aching laugh-a-minute, irreverent and often barmy two-and-a-half hours of perfect entertainment.
The 1968 film quickly became a cult classic, and the decision to turn it into an all-singing, all-dancing glitzy musical raised several eyebrows but paid off, taking Broadway by storm in 2001, transferring to the West End in 2004, and being made into a movie in 2005 (thus becoming a movie based on a musical based on a movie about a musical!).
Now enjoying its second major UK tour, the production boasts a number of well-known names from the world of comedy and television. This could so easily be lazy stunt casting to attract starry-eyed audiences, but turns out to be as inspired as a self-reproducing bratwurst. If that isn’t enough, some of the finest-quality musical performers are also on board – it simply cannot fail.
There can be few unfamiliar with the brilliant premise: two producers come up with a cunning get rich quick scheme involving the staging of a huge Broadway flop (worst play, worst actors, worst director, and plenty of wealthy little old ladies as backers) – but the hoped for disaster becomes an unexpected hit.
Director Matthew White’s tremendous revival gives the lie to the oft-held assumption that touring productions are cheap and second best to the sort of large-scale venture that crams in the crowds in the West End. Paul Farnsworth’s design is impressive and makes excellent use of every inch of the stage while flashy costumes appear to have sequins upon sequins. A nine-piece band under the direction of Andrew Hilton provides solid accompaniment for every show stopping number, while Lee Proud’s choreography is blistering.
The casting is faultless, from stars to tireless ensemble. The undoubted show-stealing star is Cory English as Max Bialystock; he’s a veteran of this show, having played Max in the West End and the last UK tour, and his performance (in a role which is surely like being asked to carry out the Labours of Hercules every evening) drips with assured professionalism. He’s impish and energetic as the seasoned King of Broadway and his sense of fun and unflagging vitality make him a lovable rogue, whether toying with the affections of demanding old ladies or reminiscing about the show’s story while sitting on a prison cell toilet in “Betrayal.”
As Leo Bloom, the nervous accountant who dreams of being in showbusiness, Jason Manford is quite a revelation. Those who only know him for his stand-up comedy will be pleasantly surprised at his fine voice, fancy footwork and acting talent, his character growing in confidence as the show develops.
David Bedella, always worth the price of admission alone, again hits the spot as the flamboyant and dreadful director Roger De Bris, sparkling in “Keep It Gay” and triumphing in the second act when he has to step into the title role of the planned flop “Springtime for Hitler.” His hymn of self praise, “Heil Myself,” couldn’t be Mein Camper. He is aided and abetted by a surprisingly restrained Louis Spence as Carmen Ghia, who adds glorious dashes of his own personality – even simple crossovers are achieved with daring choreographic flair.
Phill Jupitus looks for all the world like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes as ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind, the playwright whose terrible show is practically a love letter to Hitler. Jupitus resists the urge to play the role over the top, and instead creates a twitchy pigeon-fancying nutcase whose finger is ever close to the gun trigger. His bonkers version of “Haben Sie gehört das Deutsche Band?” is a triumph of deluded fanaticism. The delightful Tiffany Graves, brings long-legged lusty glamour to the role of sexy Swede Ulla, enough to set most male hearts racing especially when she proves that “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!”
The Producers is one of those must-see musicals that deserves its standing ovations, and will more than likely have audiences wanting to see it again and again. Despite being a show about a hoped-for flop, this production is most definitely the goosestep that lays the golden egg, an irresistible burst of energy bound to leave everyone in hysterics.