Theatre Review: The Producers

Cory English and Jason Manford in The Producers
Cory English and Jason Manford in The Producers

The satirical musical farce that is The Producers looks like taking Milton Keynes by storm this week following Monday’s opening night, the show’s star-studded cast giving us a host of witty one-liners while cocking a snook at political correctness, writes Alan Wooding.

Based on Mel Brooks’ Academy Award winning movie of the same name, The Producers is all about Bronx-born Max Bialystock (Cory English) who plans to stage a dreadful theatrical flop after he learns that a first night failure can make more money for him than a successful one from shy and retiring accountant Leo Bloom (Jason Manford).

With financial backing gained from a host of sex starved older women in return for ‘favours’, New Yorker Bailystock – who has already had Broadway failures – sees his intended new musical flop go wrong as ‘Springtime for Hitler, A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgarden’ unintentionally turns into a massive hit.

However, The Producers is not just about a show within a show. It’s certainly played for laughs while for anyone feeling sensitive, faint-hearted or worried about being ‘pc’, Mel Brooks’ comic masterpiece is so ‘un-pc’ that it takes the rise out of all and sundry; old people, the Irish, gays, actors, religion, accountants, Winston Churchill, the Third Reich and Nazi Germany and in particular, Adolf ‘Elizabeth’ Hitler!

There are some absolutely brilliant and hilarious performances from the likes of comedian Phill Jupitus as Franz Liebkind, a pigeon fancying escaped Nazi complete with a tin helmet. He has penned a script about Hitler and the Third Reich that Bailystock and Bloom intend to use as the basis of their flop musical show.

Wearing well worn lederhosen, Jupitus is great in the role and his slapstick ‘Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop’ number sung with the two producers is a real hoot as is his ‘In Old Bavaria’ as he reminisces about the old days.

Jason Manford takes a break from Tuesday night’s BBC Television drama ‘Ordinary Lies’ to surprise the audience with a remarkably melodic singing voice while he naturally displays some fabulous comedic timing moments, especially while holding his ‘little blue comfort blanket’.

Like Phill Jupitus, Manford received a deserved standing ovation as did the leggy Tiffany Graves who plays Scandinavian beauty Ulla, a herring-eating blonde who at first tries to ignore shy accountant Bloom’s affections although she ends up marrying him. Her rendition of ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It’ is excellent as are her quick outfit changes.

Some of the musical numbers have a hint of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’ or Jerry Bock’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ about them while others like ‘Haben Sie Gehort Das Deutsche Band’ are straight out of a Bavarian-style oompah band songbook.

I’ve never really taken to Louie Spence but he’s a real audience favourite, even though he basically plays himself in the guise of the eccentric Carmen Ghia. The Pineapple Studio dancer simply minces, twirls and sashays his way around the stage at every given opportunity as the foil for another former Milton Keynes Theatre pantomime regular, Olivier Award winning actor David Bedella.

With his deep distinctive speaking and singing voice, the likeable Badella is well suited to the role of flamboyant over-the-top camp stage director Roger De Bris. He only agrees to be involved in the joint Bailystock-Bloom World War II-based show after they agree to ‘Keep It Gay’. He also ends up playing an even more camp and glitzy Hitler after Liebkind (the producers’ first choice) unfortunately breaks his leg on the Broadway show’s opening night.

But if one actor stood out for me, it was Cory English. He was sensational as the scheming Max Bailystock with a few well rehearsed ‘ad libs’ thrown in for good measure. After leading several excellent musical numbers, his best and cleverest was surely ‘Betrayed’ following his arrest and spell of imprisonment in Sing-Sing jail.

The show also has a great supporting cast who danced and sang their way through almost two-and-a-half hours of sheer quality entertainment. Lee Proud’s choreography was excellent as the cast goose-stepped and danced in their jackboots while four massive ‘sieg heil’ saluting arms being raised from the wings was a stroke of genius.

I particularly loved the over-the-top drag queens with their sparkly swastika-clad uniforms and not forgetting the seven piece band, led by musical director Andrew Hilton, who ensured they never missed a beat or a cue.

No expense seemed to have been spared in Paul Farnsworth’s glitz and glamorous costume department while his clever use of props and the actual staging are truly magnificent.

Featuring a riotous mix of eccentric characters and the all-time classic song ‘Springtime For Hitler’, The Producers is not just a camp extravaganza but is a huge musical triumph. It’s certainly the best and easily the most enjoyable musical that I’ve seen at Milton Keynes Theatre so far this year so if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you get down to the box office pretty smartly or call the Box Office on 0844 871 7652 as it’s due to finish on Saturday.