‘The Producers’ opened on Broadway in 2001, where it was an instant hit, received great reviews, and won an incredible 12 Tony Awards. Susan Stroman won best director and best choreographer, and watching the show it is easy to see why when lines of dancing zimmer-framed old ladies and parades of storm troopers camply goose stepping in the formation of a swastika, are just a few of the show’s many delights. But then, what director would not envy the opportunity to work with the wonderfully audacious material that Mel Brooks has provided.
The story concerns Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer and his sidekick Leo Bloom. Between them they have come up with a scam that will make them millionaires by producing the worst ever musical on Broadway. They finally come across a script by ‘ex’-nazi storm trooper Franz Liebkind, which tells of the rise of Adolf Hitler in song and dance. - The most offensive musical imagined, or at least one would think!
The musical has nazi arm-band wearing chickens, dancing storm troopers, dirty old ladies with euphemisms such as “Lick-me Bite-me” and “Hold-me, Touch-me”, a song with the refrain “Don’t be stupid / Be a smarty / Come and join the Nazi party!” And the marvellously scandalous closing number “Spring Time for Hitler”, which sees an outrageously camp Fuhrer take centre stage.
The acting is superb, and the London production has the unexpected good fortune of casting Nathan Lane, after Richard Dryfus pulled out days before the show started previews. Nathan Lane, who originated the role of Max Bialystock on Broadway, shines from beginning to end, sending wave after wave of vociferous laughter throughout the auditorium, whether faking heart attacks or fending off octogenarian nymphomaniacs. His performance alone makes this musical a must see.
Lee Evans is hilarious as the naive and easily corruptible accountant Leo Bloom, Where Nathan Lane is all saucy fun, Evan’s brings the house down with his gawky displays of timid innocence.
The rest of the cast are also faultless from Nicolas Colicos as the eccentric ‘ex’-storm trooper, ‘Franz Liebkind’, Leigh Zimmerman’s Swedish blonde bombshell ‘Ulla” to Conleth Hill as the cross-dressing director ‘Roger DeBris’ and James Drefus as his camp assistent ‘Carmen Ghia’
Conleth Hill sings the lyrics “Keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay!” and that is exactly what ‘The Producers’ does. I defy anyone not to laugh at this brilliant display of sheer foolishness. An absolute delight!
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A Spiffing knockabout musical comedy"; PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Unleashes an epidemic of bliss." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Intoxicating, time-suspending and slightly guilty pleasure." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "From the opening number, the audience rides a tidal wave of pure pleasure and after three delirious hours one is left stunned by a combination of unstoppable laughter and sheer happiness." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Mel Brooks, has transformed his celebrated movie into a musical comedy, and as funny a one as I’ve seen."
A Review by one of our readers Gary Mack
31 May 2006
The Producers a new musical comedy by Mel Brooks opened at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 9th November 2004, after almost two years in London's West End and having seen the film I so much wanted to see the show live on stage.
The story is very simple. An out on his luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock (played by Cory English) and his accountant Leo Bloom (played by Reece Shearsmith) team up and hatch a plan to produce the worst musical ever! (Spring Time For Hitler)! yes sounds outrageous (and it is), but they are hoping that the show is a failure so they can run off with their investors money! and be millionaires. Max turns to his 'Little Old Ladies' who are more than willing to invest, however things do get more complicated. Leo (who is a nervous wreck) falls in love with Ula, Max ends up in prison and Roger DeBris ends up fronting the show!
The main character Max Bialystock is a man that needs a special talent to pull together all the qualities needed to head a large West End company. I did want to see the show with the original London cast, but that was not to be Richard Dreyfuss left the show due to injury prior to opening, then he was replaced by Nathan Lane who together with Lee Evans took the West End by storm. My concerns regarding the cast were to say the least very short lived, having now seen the film I could not wait to see the stage production.
The show is fast moving and directed with great pace, the cast from star to ensemble really pack a punch in this musical of musicals that must be seen. The show has announced its closure at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, one only hopes that the producer (not Max or Leo) Mel Brooks puts this show on a national tour. Don't wait for the tour is my advise The Producers is playing in London till 6th January 2007.
The following is a Review of The Producers from one of our readers DAVID HEPPELL (Note: His review is from a Preview performance NOv 2004)
For many shows opening on the West End, losing one of your two leads - especially when that also means losing a famous Hollywood name - would be a possibly irrecoverable setback. So it was a potential hazard when Richard Dreyfus withdrew almost on the eve of the previews, just three weeks before opening night. However, when you're able to replace that lead with the star that played the part to rapturous acclaim on Broadway (winning a Tony Award for his trouble), you can turn that loss to a distinct advantage.
The Producers was already booking very well, and was one of the hot tickets of the winter when Richard Dreyfus dropped out through injury. Now Nathan Lane (on his West End debut) has stepped into the breach, tickets are like gold dust. It was therefore with some degree of surprise that I managed to get a returned ticket just prior to curtain-up.
The story is one of two producers planning to get rich by raising money from a horde of old ladies so they can put together the worst show ever - on the basis that 'a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit'- and then scarper to Rio de Janiero with their ill-gotten gains. This, of course, spectacularly backfires on them when their camp glitz-fest 'Springtime For Hitler' becomes a huge hit under the mantle of being a 'satiric masterpiece'.
The show is still previewing, so slips were expected and, perhaps predictably, it was the technology, the set, that let the side down - at least for a short while - when it broke down. Coming, as it did, in the middle of the 'intentionally-bad' show-within-a-show, many in the audience wondered if it was all part of the show - especially as the curtain came down almost instantaneously - but it soon became apparent that something had gone awry. This halt in the proceedings did not dampen the audience's ardour, though, as we were treated to a tête á tête with first Nathan Lane, then Lee Evans and finally (at the vociferous behest if an insistent audience chant of 'U-lla, U-lla, U-lla..') Leigh Zimmerman - who plays the Swedish bombshell Ulla. The three regailed the audience, took a few questions from the house, and effortlessly coaxed measures of applause and laughter from the huddled masses.
The cast, as you would perhaps expect in such a big-hitting show, is uniformly superb. A sprinkling of well-known names and faces - to those familiar with the West End, and those not. Lane and Evans are obvious 'big names', but for TV viewers James Dreyfus (PC Goody in The Thin Blue Line - amongst other TV and film roles) is also a face to know, and for those of a theatrical bent, Nicolas Colicos (Mamma Mia, Kiss Me Kate) and Leigh Zimmerman (Chicago, Contact) also feature.
Lee Evans impresses alongside Lane, and perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid is that he finishes the evening on level terms with him (well, almost). This is no-doubt helped by the easy chemistry between the two (perhaps not a surprise - they have worked together closely before, on the film Mousehunt, so they are no strangers).
There are some neat touches throughout - a group of old women "tap" dancing with zimmer frames (á la "Stomp") - a cameo from Mel Brooks (a brief voice-over from the producer-writer-composer) - the use of a Busby Berkeley-esque mirror to reveal a chorus-line in swastika formation - and some Nazi pigeons. There are also a couple of delicate self-referential nods to the audience thrown in for good measure.
The score is an assembly of fairly standard-sounding, brassy, broadway "show tunes" and is therefore arguably the weakest element - but it is of a perfectly acceptable standard, and does a good job of enhancing the comedy, which is what the show is all about.
This is a brilliantly funny, lively, bright and thoroughly enjoyable show - which deserved the instant standing ovation it received (no hesitant rise to the feet here - the audience were on their feet like a shot). Catch it while Nathan Lane remains - if you can (he departs in early January); the real producers will have an almighty task to replace him. Those that do miss him can take heart from the news that his performance is soon to be immortalised - he is set to star in the film version of the show, which is being produced next year.
The Producers will have some serious competition from other new shows in the next few months, with Woman In White already open, and Mary Poppins coming soon, but for sheer blistering hilarity, this simply can't be beaten.
( David Heppell)