Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’

Original Direction & Choreography Susan Stroman

Directed by Matthew White

Empire Theatre. Sunderland. United Kingdom. 14th May 2015

 

Aristotle once wrote:  “One swallow does not a summer make…” This morning I went theproducersIntacross the road for a sly fag – I’m not allowed to smoke in the house, see, (I’m not allowed up on the furniture, either) – only to see not one but two swallows hunting insects on the wing. A brief burst of the joy of life swelled in my chest to be quickly replaced by the rattle of a coughing fit.

I smiled. Aristotle’s intent was to opine on the fact that a momentary flash of happiness does not necessarily make for a happy man. I concur. I’ve been fairly unhappy recently – more so since the British general election where I observed another proverbial bird not only voting for Xmas in their droves but happily mixing-up and applying their own stuffing.

Proof, if ever it was needed, that given massive amounts of money and control of the agenda, you can persuade the most normal of people to do the most stupid of things.

Still, I appreciated the glow provided by the swallows, so fuck you, Aristotle! I’m happy for the moment and I intend to stay that way for as long as possible.

I’ll admit though, that, swallows aside, my joy-pump had been primed previously by a visit, last night, to the Sunderland Empire to see Stroman and Whites production of Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ – and quite frankly I’ve been buzzing ever since.

Brooks’ wonderful creation has an enduring appeal to successive generations, perhaps holding greater resonance just now both due to recent events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the intolerance of fundamentalists to criticism of their ideas exemplified in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the rise of Islamic State.

Neither of these were at the forefront of my mind as I took my seat for Saturday evenings performance and cracked open a tub of popcorn. As I said, I’ve not been particularly happy lately and was looking forward to a bit of a chuckle. For the first fifteen minutes that, unfortunately, is all I got.

You may recall the story: Max Bialystock, a failed Broadway producer, employs an accountant, Leo Bloom, who notices an anomaly in the books whereby a show that closed after its opening night on Broadway could make more money than one that had a successful run. Bloom, after an internal tussle with his conscience is persuaded to partner Bialystock to produce Broadway’s greatest failure making them both rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Now, generally, setting up the narrative that leads to the inciting incident – in this case the decision to implement the fraud – can be a slow and painful process for many plays. The director has to give the impression of plodding normality whilst secretly developing character and racing to get to the moment where the world turns upside down so s/he can get on with expressing the real reason for the performance – telling the story, telling what happened next.

‘The Producers’ doesn’t suffer from this, yet… the first 15 to 20 minutes were missing something?

Quite what was missing I wasn’t too sure? Not initially at least: The dialogue was snappy; the narrative easy to follow; the song and dance routines brilliantly performed and choreographed. Perhaps we were all in a state of shock at the incredible singing ability of Leo Bloom (played by comedian, Jason Manford)? Whatever the reason the overly polite and somewhat forced applause from the three–quarter-full house following each routine said that they were eager for something more.

They got it with the entrance of Ross Noble. Ross plays Franz Liebkind, ex-Nazi stormtrooper, pigeon-fancier, and author of the worst-play-in-the-world: ‘Springtime for Hitler’. Aficionados will recall the scene where Liebkind is visited in his pigeon-loft by Bialystock and Bloom as they attempt to secure the rights to his play. From the moment the German-helmet-wearing Franz turns and manically faces the house (Noble gets a huge cheer at this) it becomes obvious what the production has been missing so far: the explicit involvement of the audience. Noble, after a six-month tour of his latest comedy show, can’t help, however subtly, acknowledge, and play to, the audience. The audience in its turn acknowledged that we knew that he knew that we knew that he knew, etc’. In that instant the Fourth Wall came crashing down, the audience visibly relaxed, and this stage production of The Producers became what all stage productions of The Producers secretly long to be – a grand British pantomime of high camp.

From that moment on I barely had time to catch my breath. Tears were constantly being brushed from my cheeks as the audience applauded, hooted, hollered, and laughed out loud. The intermission came and went and we seamlessly, and joyously, picked up where we left off. Scene by scene flew past as stunning performances fell effortlessly from the entire cast as we romped towards the climactic – and spectacular – Broadway showing of ‘Springtime for Hitler’. A truly amazing scene replete with giant hydraulic arms that rise from the wings in a Brobdingnagian Nazi salute, worthy of a standing ovation all of its own. [click image to enlarge]Producers

It would be inappropriate to mention the beautiful performances of David Bedella as Roger De Bris, or Stephane Anelli’s wonderful Carmen Ghia, or the colossus that was Cory English as Max Bialystock, or Tiffany Graves’ ‘Ulla’, or Jason Manford’s voice – yes, it really does have to be heard to be believed – without bringing your attention to the inch perfect, pitch perfect display of the entire Ensemble. May they never, ever, rest.

Simply put, ‘The Producers’ has to be the funniest thing I’ve seen in years – trust me, I’m not a Doctor.

Okay, there was that first fifteen minutes, but maybe this was down to my comedic bias expecting Manford to play to the room when perhaps the development of Bloom’s meek character was more important? There was also a moment, in the later prison-scene during the denouement, where Noble, now in a wheel-chair due to two broken legs, does nothing more than move across the stage. An opportunity missed for the popular character to say au revoir to the audience? Perhaps. I certainly think so.

Whatever, none of this detracted from the sheer joy of this production. A joy that lays out and then transcends the lesson that tragedy plus time always equals humour, and that stupid ideas are always deserving of ridicule.

This is a truly great show and one that shouldn’t be missed.

So, can one show a summer make? Most definitely. Had Aristotle been at the Sunderland Empire on Saturday, he’d still be pissing himself with laughter. United Kingdom residents feeling particularly depressed following the General Election should make this performance an essential part of your recovery.‘The Producers’ will keep you feeling happy for weeks on end and should be made available on the NHS.

Kill for a ticket – Unlike Hitler, you won’t regret it.

Anvil Springstien.

Rating: Four and a half anvils

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Website, Tickets, and Tour Dates:

http://theproducersmusical.co.uk/

pics © theproducersmusical.co.uk

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