We’ve had the movie, the Broadway musical of the movie, the movie of the musical – what next for Mel Books’s riotous The Producers? Leaving Disney to mount “The Producers do Bambi On Ice”, The Production Company sticks with what it does best with this semi-staged version of the upbeat musical that is sure to please.
Broadway producer Max Bialystock, who raises backing money by shtupping randy little old ladies, is down on his luck after another Broadway flop. He is saved by the arrival of star-struck accountant Leo Bloom, who innocently observes that a producer could sell 2000% of a show and, if it bombs, keep all of the proceeds. The morally bankrupt Bialystock, who of course loves this idea, convinces the nervous Bloom to become his partner, and they set about mounting the worst show of all time “Springtime for Hitler”. In the process of sourcing, casting, rehearsal and mounting of “Springtime for Hitler” (which unsurprisingly is a huge hit) we get an hilarious romp through the grossest stereotypes of the theatre, from the Swedish blonde bombshell ingénue Ulla to the ridiculously gay director Roger De Bris and his assistant Carmen Ghia.
True to form, The Production Company have assembled a strong cast for this run. Master of slapstick comedy Wayne Scott Kermond is a fantastically hyperactive Bialystock, never more so than in his crazy re-enactment of the whole show in a five minute song. Brent Hill (Rock of Ages) captures Leo Bloom’s bumbling naivety, and Christie Whelan (Ulla), while not strongest singer on the stage, has all her curves in the right places. Trevor Ashley brings his wealth of experience in cabaret to his wonderful portrayal of Franz Liebkind, the writer of “Springtime for Hitler”, and Virginia Gay is hilarious as the appropriately named Hold me Touch Me, a randy octogenarian backer.
But, as is often the case, it is Mitchell Butel (De Bris) who steals the show. In this high camp role where more is more, Butel milks it for everything it is worth. He is simply mesmerising, from his prancing and strutting in the big musical numbers to his Judy Garland moment when as Hitler he sits on the apron of the stage, coyly flips his black wig out of eyes, and engages in banter with the audience.
The principals are supported by a fine cast of singer/dancers, choreographed with precision by Andrew Hallsworth. The show relies on a number of comings and goings from the chorus, and the leaps of imagination required by the audience are hampered somewhat in this instance by the positioning of the orchestra across the stage, with a narrow gangway through the centre. The visual prominence of the orchestra detracts from the strong direction by Hallsworth and Dean Bryant, though the silhouette of musical director Vanessa Scammel is a glamorous plus.
But with a gag a minute and a never ending stream of clever songs – with music actually written by Mel Brooks – The Producers is entertainment plus. It lacks the true offensiveness of the original movie, but the musical is a modern classic, and this production captures and celebrates the brilliance of Brooks with gleeful aplomb.