Theatre Review: The Producers


A killer combination of song, dance, comedy and spectacle, ‘The Producers’ puts other shows to shame, says David Mullane.


The Producers began life as a 1968 dark comedy film by Mel Brooks, who then adapted it for Broadway in 2001, and then this musical version was readapted back for film in 2005. The 1968 film won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, while the 2001 musical become one of the few musicals to win in every category for which it was nominated at the Tonys (it won 12 awards).

Telling the tale of down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock, The Producers is a send-up of show business and a skewering of Nazism. Max, along with his nervous colleague Leo Bloom, cook up a plan to make a fortune by producing the biggest flop in Broadway history, the infamous musical of Hitler’s life, Springtime for Hitler.

You know you’re in for a fun ride when the cast list includes the line: “Members of the ensemble also play a variety of other roles including: showgirls, accountants, Nazi storm-troopers, prisoners, and old ladies.”

Top of the bill are well-known British comedians Jason Manford and Ross Noble. Stunt casting can often be a deceptive ploy to lure audiences to the theatre but both men are excellent in their roles.

The Producers is a high-octane physical and satirical comedy and demands a certain level of comedic chops from its performers, and these two performers have got what it takes. While Noble’s vocals are serviceable (if not a little weak), his role doesn’t ask too much of his singing voice. On the other hand, Manford pleasantly surprises us with a strong, sweet tenor range, which he gets to really display in the second act’s solo ‘Till Him’.

Joining Noble and Manford on stage are a fine company of West End actors. Cory English as Max Bialystock is the hardest working and most impressive cast member while Tiffany Graves as Ulla the Swedish secretary is a hoot with high kicks, lots of laughs and even some fantastic stage trickery costume changes.

Performed by a live band, the music is delightful if a little slight. The problem the show contends with is that being a balls-to-the-wall musical comedy, it doesn’t have the emotional heft to pull on our heartstrings with any real pathos. Instead, as compensation, it charms us with a score full of references and nods to the canon of musical theatre. As much as it is a parody of Broadway, The Producers is a celebration and a tribute.

It’s a lean, mean musical comedy machine, delivering songs, comedy and also delightful choreography. Despite running to almost three hours (including an interval), the show hardly tires or falters, and there are some definite highlights. Towards the end of the first act, ‘Along Came Bialy’ is a raunchy number performed by a troupe of horny elderly New York women. They provide financial backing for Max and Leo’s show in return for some backing of another nature. ‘Keep It Gay’ is a riotous sequence set in the home of the flamboyant director Roger De Bris and his team of assistants, a line-up of ridiculous and hysterical gay stereotypes.

The pièce de résistance is, of course, the extended sequence of ‘Springtime for Hitler’, essentially a show within a show. Tap-dancing stormtroopers, glittering swastikas and giant arms extending from the theatre wings in a Nazi salute combine to form one of Broadway’s most famous and hilarious numbers. It should also be noted how politically powerful a statement Mel Brooks makes with this show-within-a-show. This comical take-down of the Third Reich hits hard and ferociously and displays the genius of Brooks.

‘The Producers’ is on at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin until July 11.

© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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