The Producers doesn’t so much overstep the mark as plow over it in a Panzer. It’s offensive and raucous. It’s crude. And this latest production of Mel Brooks’s classic satire is absolutely brilliant.
It is, of course, the musical version of the 1967 movie of the same name, which tells the tale of crooked Broadway producer Max Bialystock, who ropes in timid accountant Leo Bloom on a scam to stage a deliberate flop to make off with all the invested cash. The pair track down the worst script, the lousiest director and some dubious talent to put on the jaw-droppingly tasteless musical Springtime for Hitler. If it’s a hit, it will completely ruin them. What could possibly go wrong (or in this case, right)?
With stand ups Jason Manford and Ross Noble in the roles of Leo Bloom and nutcase playwright Franz Libekind, it was the kind of show that might have initially smacked of stunt casting – Manford can easily fill arenas for days single-handedly, and Noble isn’t so far behind with a huge loyal following. So the first surprise is Manford’s acting and singing is spot on; he makes a fantastic Leo Bloom, blends in effortlessly with the ensemble and holds a tune superbly. Noble, too, plays things unexpectedly straight (or as straight as can be when you’re playing a deranged, pigeon-keeping, tin-hat wearing Nazi playwright), in that none of his own stage persona is in the mix. Their names on the posters might put bums on seats, but their performances are not at all what you might expect.
However, it’s not a household name that holds things together. Stage actor Cory English is an absolute tour de force as larger-than-life Max Bialystock; and what’s more David Bedella is more than excellent value as gay-as-a-window director Roger de Bris – for my money the best Frank ‘N’ Furter since Tim Curry himself, when Bedella’s on stage you can’t help but sit up and pay attention. Tiffany Graves’s Carry On-tastic portrayal of Swedish wannabe actress Ulla adds to the fun.
The Producers is not for the faint of heart, and nothing escapes the claws of it’s sweeping, ferocious, yet completely and utterly ludicrous satire. Nationality, gender, age, sexuality – it’s all there to be pot-shot at, and as such mightn’t be everybody’s cup of tea. I cry at shows in the Empire all the time, but it’s always emotional; this time however, by the second act I was helplessly weeping with laughter.
For entertainment value it is among the highest calibre of shows that have come to the theatre in recent years. It might not have the flashiest set, but the talent knocks things way out of the park. The atmosphere on opening night was unusually overwhelmingly positive, and not to mention hardcore; MADEUP sat not far from a group that were such fans of the movie that they joined in Rocky Horror style. “Well I never! Talk about bad taste!”, they gleefully yelled, shouting out en masse the original film’s dialogue as if they were the outraged audience members having Springtime for Hitler unleashed on them for the first time.
It all made for a ridiculously good night at the theatre, the likes of which really don’t come along every day.