Will this revival of The Producers be a flop or a smash hit? We suspect a smash, though the musical is about the vagaries of the criteria for producing successful musicals – so you never know until after opening night!
Most people will be familiar with Mel Brooks’ comedy movie of the same name, and his musical adaptation follows a similar story. Nervous accountant Leo Bloom (Jason Manford) wants to be a Broadway producer, and he falls in with charming, unscrupulous and down-on-his-luck Max Bialystock (Cory English), and whilst cooking the books accidentally gives him the idea that a flop could be even more financially lucrative than a hit. The only problem is they have to guarantee a box office disaster – otherwise their fraudulent scheme will see them behind bars. Bialystock and Bloom set about securing the rights to the most toxic musical ever written – Springtime For Hitler – by mad Nazi Franz Liebkind (Phill Jupitus), and sign up the worst director in Broadway, Roger De Bris (David Bedella). With such “talent” on board – what could possibly go right?
Brooks’ show is ingenious, and makes full use of the satirical and metatextual nature of being a musical about musicals. It remains full of the neurotic, self-deprecating and ironic humour with a strongly Jewish flavour that made the film so hilarious, and this is accentuated by musical numbers incorporating traditional Yiddish melodies – melancholic violins come through as Bialystock laments his misfortune in The King of Broadway.
This is a very good production of an excellent musical, and the most impressive thing in its favour is a superb comic performance by Cory English whose unrelenting energy and invention is a marvel and a joy to see. His re-enactment of the whole plot in the song Betrayed is a highlight of a faultless and astoundingly good performance. Whereas English has some similarities to Zero Mostel’s Bialystock, but makes the role his own; Jason Manford never quite emerges from the shadow of Gene Wilder, and his mannered performance is good enough, if something of a Wilder impersonation; but it’s not on the same level as English’s. Nevertheless, Manford has a good singing voice, and finds ways to use his height and size to his advantage, playing Bloom as a gentle giant – and the mismatch in physicality between Bialystock and Bloom is automatically funny before any acting begins.
From the supporting characters, Phill Jupitus is excellent as Franz Liebkind, which is a gift of a part, and one a talented comic can do wonders with. Incorporating a German accent and a wild, fanatical stare, Jupitus embodies the idea of the deranged Nazi that remains part of British and American consciousness and shared humour. David Bedella also impresses as outrageous and camp director of limited ability Roger De Bris (with Louie Spence in full self-parody mode scampering around after him). Bedella gets to perform the showstopper Springtime For Hitler, complete with sparkly Führer costume, and, without risking spoiling the ending – he nails it. Springtime For Hitler is one of the funniest things we’ve ever seen on stage, and it’s obvious to us why the show’s a hit… We also enjoyed Tiffany Graves’ immaculate comic timing as Ulla, the glamorous leggy Swedish blonde with a penchant for herrings who appears in Bloom and Bialystock’s lives.
Arguably the second act, at least up until the opening night of Springtime For Hitler, isn’t as strong or as funny as the first; but a satisfying conclusion takes the show out on a high, and the note-perfect live orchestra adds enormously to the warm atmosphere. With some great original songs that makes good use of all the characters, and a phenomenal central performance by Cory English, this production of The Producers is heartily recommended. If you like the humour of the movie, then The Producers will have you rolling in the aisles.