As themes for musicals go it’s pretty difficult to imagine a more unlikely subject than Adolf Hitler. That’s the basic premise behind The Producers, one of whom has worked out that he can make more money staging a flop than a hit (hmmm...maybe that’s what the team behind Viva Forever were up to?). Originally a 1968 film from Mel Brooks he waited a mere 33 years before adapting it into an actual musical (a case of art imitating life imitating art etc) which has gone on to win awards and win over audiences across the globe...even in Germany and Austria...which is just a touch odd when you think about it.
It’s not unusual for a show to have one or two scene stealing performers but this version of The Producers has half a dozen of ‘em. Seriously.
Cory English oozes chutzpah as the OAP ‘servicing’ Max Bialystock (what that man won’t do for a dollar...oy vey!), Jason Manford channels a little Jerry Lewis as the uptight Leo Bloom and Phill Jupitus is delightfully unhinged as the frequently Führer-ious Franz Liebkind.
Add in Louis Spence...simply being Louis Spence is enough and he only has to flick his wrist or wiggle his ass to get a laugh (and that’s some talent...try it) as Carmen Ghia, David Bedella who somehow manages to out-camp him (something that should be scientifically impossible) and Tiffany Graves as the English mangling Swedish love interest Ulla and you’ve got a dream cast for this show.
Bedella’s gloriously OTT Hitler routine deserves a particular mention. Watching him prance around in a gold sequin jacket surrounded by a swastika wearing goose stepping chorus line still has the power to shock if you actually think about it but of course that’s the point. Speaking of which apparently sometime after the original movie came out a woman got into a lift with Brooks and recognizing him said, 'I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar.' Brooks smiled before replying 'Lady, it rose below vulgarity.' Genius.
Of course Hitler and the Nazis were a ridiculous joke that turned deadly serious and whilst nothing can be done to undo the horror they unleashed on the world Brooks’ revenge by sending the whole thing up is bitter, sweet and entirely justifiable however you look at it. Here endeth the sermon.
Growing up during the golden age of Hollywood musicals Mel's also neatly tapped into what makes a great number and, on top of the classic Springtime For Hitler (sample lyric "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party"), the evening’s packed full of glitzy and surprisingly catchy show tunes including the hilariously camp anthem Keep It Gay. Kudos to the band and the supporting cast for somehow sounding and looking like there were several dozen of them on and off stage too, creating a Busby Berkeley feel on a budget (several of the cast played five or six roles minor roles each, which is exhausting enough just to think about).
Smart, funny, satirical and with a cast that makes the most out of every line, gesture and opportunity to dress up (or down in Ulla’s case...see below...ahem) this production really does have the ‘reich’ stuff.
The Producers is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 25th April. Tickets here!
All photos courtesy and copyright of Manuel Harlan.