You couldn’t ask for a better cast to tour a new production of The Producers which opens tomorrow and arrives in Milton Keynes later this month.
Casting comedians Jason Manford, Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble is inspired.
Teaming them with the irrepressible musical theatre star David Bedella, dancer and choreographer Louie Spence, actors Cory English and Tiffany Graves, and a talented all-singing, all-dancing ensemble, has created possibly the ultimate theatre company. I can’t wait to see the show.
But for now I’m at rehearsals in a Fulham dance studio where David and Louie sit with the dancers, Jason and Cory are running through a routine with Tiffany, and Phill is sitting on his own, cradling a pigeon and checking his phone. Ross is still on tour with his stand-up show and is joining later in the tour.
After watching several run-throughs, each funnier than the last, we are let loose for interviews with the names.
The Producers, written by Mel Brooks, is the story of how two scheming theatrical producers (nervous accountant Leo Bloom and slippery Max Bialystock played by English), innocently joined by their sexy Swedish secretary, Ulla, attempt to stage a Broadway musical flop in a bid to clean out investors and make a packet from opening night.
They hire a New York’s worst director, the flamboyant Roger De Bris (Bedella, back in a frock) and his aide de (very) camp, Carmen Ghia (Spence), to make their show Springtime For Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, which has been written by pigeon-loving Nazi Franz Liebkind (Jupitus/Noble).
The highlight is a glorious send-up of those big Busby Berkeley production numbers, Springtime For Hitler, but, in truth, every line and show tune is a politically incorrect comic gem. What’s not to love?
David, who recently starred in panto at Milton Keynes Theatre and the blood-thirsty lead in an acclaimed Sweeney Todd, plays director de Bris.
First up are David, Tiffany and Phill. Statuesque Wiltshire blonde, Tiffany, who trained at the Ed Arts School in Tring, loves playing Ulla, a fantasy, pneumatic, leggy, sex obsessed Swede.
Tiffany admits the accent owes a lot to the Swedish Chef off The Muppets.
“Yes, the accent is a bit Swedish chef. She’s larger than life and so is the voice.
“When you join a show like this you know what you’re getting into. No-body escapes. I strip, David wears a dress and is very outrageous, we have Phill and Ross as Franz who is a complete stereotype but it’s Mel Brooks.
“It’s great fun. It’s brilliant! My favourite part is Springtime For Hitler. I come on and it’s very Jessica Rabbit-esque. I throw myself over a piano while David is being very Liberace. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, over the top ridiculous. I love it.”
David, star of Rocky Horror, Jerry Springer and Hedwig, laughed. “Usually, as an actor, you try and flesh out a role but with Mel Brooks the whole show is the actor. You have someone playing the comedy, somebody playing the drama etc and my job is to be a one-dimensional gay and funny.
“I think it’s really great. I’m loving it. I’m working with Louie who is a joy. He’s so hard working and talented.
“My part is hard for me, if I’m honest – and I know a lot of people won’t believe that because I have such a history of playing these roles – but it’s hard for me to do that sort of role now.
“I had told my agent no more dresses, no more heels, I’m into the next phase of my life. I now want to play lawyers and doctors but here I am, back in a dress, heels, tiara and wig!
“The show is just so funny. It’s going to be a joyous couple of months.
“The way it has been cast,” said Tiffany “is brilliant. We have these incredible comedians, we have an ensemble that is just sublime, we have voices. So we tick every box”.
“And these guys we call stand-up comedians,” added David, “Are very much triple-threats. They dance and sing, and sing well. Phill approaches this like an actor and he is just great”.
Phill, who has appeared in Spamalot, is acting as pigeon-wrangler on the set, an easy job as his co-stars are of the stuffed variety.
He said: “Myself and Matt, the director, came up with this back story for Franz. I’ve decided that he used to drive tanks so he’s a bit deaf and very loud and got PTSD.
“And these pigeons are dead – and he still feeds them. We’re putting sandbags in them so they don’t bounce and we’re breaking the necks so the necks flop properly!
“I must have seen the original Producers film when I was about ten, along with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. I’ve loved Mel Brooks and it’s a part I’ve known since childhood.
“Someone asked me the other day if I intended mucking around and do my own stuff. It’s a Mel Brooks script! I don’t think there’s a need for Phill Jupitus input into a Mel Brooks script! It’s all there! How big do you think my ego is?
“I just come in and am properly mental. He genuinely believed that he could redeem Hitler and we didn’t see him in the right light.”
Read Stage Review’s interview with The Producers Jason Manford and Cory English next week.
2015 tour dates
March 7–14, Churchill Theatre, Bromley March 16-21, Palace Theatre, Manchester March 23-28, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh March 30-April 4, Milton Keynes Theatre April 7-11, Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea April 13-18, Theatre Royal, Brighton April 20-25, Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham April 27-May 2, Bristol Hippodrome May 4-9, Grand Opera House, Belfast May 11-16, Empire Theatre, Sunderland May 18-23, New Victoria Theatre, Woking May 25-30, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton June 1-6, Empire Theatre, Liverpool June 8-13, Grand Theatre, Leeds June 15-20, Theatre Royal, Glasgow June 22-27, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen June 29-July 4, Oxford New Theatre July 6-11, Bord Gáis Theatre, Dublin.