This production certainly isn’t one which has gone without publicity. From the star vehicles, television promotions and publicity stunts outside certain political gatherings, word has got around about the new tour of this classic Mel Brooks’ musical. You’d do well to take notice. This is by far the most rounded, polished and original show I’ve seen in the past year.
For those not familiar with The Producers, the basic idea is that Max Bialystock (Cory English) is attempting to make the most money he can out of his Broadway productions, and soon enlists the help of the hapless but adorable Leo Bloom (Jason Manford) to help. They attempt to produce the most deplorable show ever to grace the stage – a camp retelling of World War Two, written by a neo-Nazi and starring Hitler, no less – in order to profit out of the funding they’ll then get to keep.
The most striking aspect of this production is that it is breath-takingly funny. There are some scenes which on their own are outrageously comical – where else can you witness men in drag as old women tap dancing with their hospital drips? But Lee Proud’s choreography serves them well, making every number a stand-out one. More of the comedy shines through with the immensely talented cast. There are some self-referential comments thrown in that almost certainly aren’t scripted, and tend to be some of the most successful with the audience. With new shows on the block such as The Book of Mormon paving the way with glorious shock-value comedy, it’s easy to forget that The Producers got there first. Some of the scenes will make you sit up and question how this ever originated in the 60s.
The enlistment of names such as Manford and Phill Jupitus heightens the witty script, as they inject so much charisma and personality into their roles. Doubters need not worry that this has been ‘star’ casting for easy ticket sales – it is little known that both Manford and Jupitus have (lesser known) backgrounds in musical theatre, and tread the boards like seasoned pros. Most especially, Manford’s vocal ability was extremely admirable, with a pleasing vibrato and range not often heard in untrained singers. He embodies the role so completely to the point of using a higher vocal register for his Americanised dialogue – he barely resembles himself. Louie Spence joins the range of known names, and performs with all the expertise and showmanship expected of him (although criminally underused dance-wise!) It should also be noted that later on in the tour, the role of Franz Liebkind, currently played by Jupitus, will be taken over by Ross Noble.
If you’re a fan of the show already through either previous productions or the popular movie from 2005, the music is exactly how you’ll remember it. There’s been no unnecessary tampering or updating to this timeless score. The standout numbers especially of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and ‘Keep it Gay’ are marvellous, both being led by theatre veteran David Bedella to raucous appreciation. So exuberant is his performance that even the unfortunate dropping off of his false Hitler moustache halfway through a number on this particular night somehow enhanced the show. The choreography here, again, aids the comedy and you’ll certainly never have seen a Nazi salute utilised so artfully.
Bedella and Spence end the number with such enthusiastically over-the-top dance that you’re more than happy to get the chance to applaud them twice, with the ‘show-within-a-show’ getting its own curtain call. Their chemistry is great throughout too, with a hilariously delivered double-entendre in regards to a closet being a particular highlight.
Despite all the praise showered over it so far however, this production completely belongs to leading man Cory English. Although probably not the name you’ll have booked to see, he’ll by far be the one you remember. His pin-point comical timing, abundant energy and experienced vocals were masterful. This all culminates in the number ‘Betrayed’ near the end of the show in which English reprises every song and event, and it was simply an honour to witness.
Very rarely is there a production in which every facet is so commendable that I can whole-heartedly recommend it, with no doubt there won’t be anyone left disappointed at the end of the night. An utter tour-de-force of comedy, dance and musicality, teaching how musical revivals should be done. Golden casting and direction for an already celebrated musical are bound to be successful. All that is left to say is that is surprises me you’ve read this far; you should be booking your tickets already.
The Producers is at The Churchill Theatre Bromley until Saturday 14th March, when it heads off to Glasgow as part of its UK Tour.
By Ash Benzaiten
Music, Book and Lyrics by: Mel Brooks
Directed by: Matthew White
The Producers Musical
Produced by: Adam Spiegel of Adam Spiegel Productions, Tulchin Bartner Productions and Just for Laughs Theatricals
Choreographed by: Lee Proud
Starring: Jason Manford, Phill Jupitus, Louie Spence, Cory English, David Bedella, Tiffany Graves
Last Updated Thursday 12th March 2015