The Producers – Review

The Producers - image

Mel Brooks’ comic musical masterpiece, The Producers, opened at Milton Keynes Theatre tonight (Monday) and it’s still as deliciously offensive as when it first premiered 14 years ago.

There are so many five-star performances in this new production that they’re all vying for top billing.

Cory English, who has been playing the former king of Broadway, Max Bialystock, for nearly a decade, is firing on all cylinders to give a masterclass in knockabout humour.

Stand-up comedian Jason Manford, who has already surprised us with his abilities as a straight actor (catch Ordinary Lies on BBC One Tuesday nights), reveals a top class musical theatre singing voice.

Then there’s the irrepressible David Bedella who almost steals the show with a star-spangled turn as Hitler.

While eye-catching turns by Louie Spence, the gorgeous Tiffany Graves and the mighty Phill Jupitus just make this the production that keeps on giving.

Phill Jupitus in The Producers. Image Hugo Glendinning

It’s hard to believe that Mel Brooks wrote The Producers film 47 years ago . Not that well received, it wasn’t adapted for the stage until 2001 when it exceeded all expectations to become a huge multi-award winner both on Broadway and in the West End.

Brooks produced it, wrote the book, music and lyrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also took the tickets on opening night.

The gags are as hysterical now as it was when first written. How could they not be? This is a show that insults just about everyone and gets away with it.

It opens on the opening (and closing) night of Funny Boy – the Hamlet Musical. It’s a stinker and a desperate Max can’t rescue his reputation.

The once king of the producers is now well and truly in the gutter…until a timid accountant called Leo Bloom (Manford) arrives to look over his books and discovers that Max could make a fortune by staging the worst show ever.

Leo, prone to panic attacks and attached to his blue comfort blanket, and Max go into partnership to produce the show and they find a humdinger.

Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden has been written by Nazi sympathising, pigeon loving, Franz Liebkind.

Then the pair track down the worst director ever and none come better qualified than Roger De Bris (Bedella) and his aide-de-camp Carmin Ghia (an outrageous Spence who wiggles and splutters his way through the show).

The pair take on board Ulla (Graves giving it her all – right down to her undies) as a super sexy Swedish secretary, while Max goes to work fleecing his aged harem of geriatric angels into coming up with the cash to stage the musical.

The Producers is a glorious tribute to bad taste and the glamour of showbiz. We have Jewish producers forced to wear a swastika armband and swear allegiance to Hitler; there’s the big production number, Springtime For Hitler, featuring Nazi banners and rhinestone stormtroopers; and gags about race, colour, religion and sexual persuasion.

At one point Bedella, a Great Dictator in the mould of the ultimate clown, Charlie Chaplin, comes on as an all-singing, all-dancing Fuhrer, his remarkable white teeth dazzling, a cheeky naughty-boy grin, and with that wonderful growl of a voice.

The diminutive English is supremely confident as Bialystock, ad-libbing without missing a beat and delivering a riotous performance worthy of any stand-up comedian.

And the intimidating Liebkind, who clearly has mental health issues, is in safe hands with Jupitus who plays the demented ex-soldier with considerable relish.

A talented ensemble of dancers, working with choreographer Lee Proud, are impressive during the big production numbers.

The only thing to let this production down was the disappointing set which looked as though it had been cobbled together at the last minute (a kitchen table as an office desk?). There were also a few issues with dim lighting during the opening number but that’s nothing that won’t be fixed by tomorrow night.

Director Matthew White’s production could run and run.

★★★★★stars

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