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Review: ‘The Producers’

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Gloriously camp, gleefully provocative, Mel Brooks’ smash-hit musical, ‘The Producers’, was everything it promised to be and more.

On a typically dingy and sodden evening in Manchester, the musical directed by Raz Shaw brought all the glitz, glamour, and sleaze of New York’s Broadway to the Royal Exchange Theatre.

‘The Producers’ was adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1967 film, and transformed into the glorious musical famed for its distinct lack of subtlety and outrageous use of stereotypes.

The somewhat meta plot of the musical within a musical is based on the discovery of the protagonists — producer, Max Bialystock (Julius D’Silva) and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Stuart Neal) — that they can make more money by overselling tickets to a Broadway flop. As such, the two leads embark on an adventure to produce the worst Broadway show in history.

Experienced, yet bankrupt producer, Max Bialystock leads his new weak and infantile accountant to commission an outrageous play — ‘Springtime for Hitler’ — which Max describes to be “practically a love letter to Hitler.”

To add insult to injury, they select the campest directing team possible; a flamboyant squad of choreographers and tech assistants led by the magnificent Roger De Bris. If you’re looking for subtlety, this show is not for you, as the group perform the number ‘Keep It Gay’ with off-the-wall levels of pageantry.

The original Broadway production ran for 2,502 performances after its opening in 2001 and won an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards. Since its successful beginnings, the musical has toured the world, with its latest reincarnation taking place in Manchester.

Raz Shaw’s approach to this latest staging of the producers is certainly no let down, with the incredible, tap-dancing cast using the round stage in a way which was both interactive and effective. The casting of Julius D’Silva as Max Bialystock was a genius choice, as he embraced the role with suitable eccentricity. Stuart Neal’s role as the frail and sweaty accountant with big dreams was impeccable.

“Shocking, insulting and outrageous and I loved every minute of it” was the first review of ‘Springtime for Hitler’, to Max and Leo’s surprise, yet this fictional review is a pretty accurate summary of my feelings whilst leaving the theatre.

The intense humour of Mel Brooks’ writing, creating blatant caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, often pushed at the boundaries of what is acceptable. At times the skilfulness of the production was the tension it created in the audience as to whether to laugh or not; the show walked a fine line.

Often I contemplated the production’s significance in a post-Me Too world, given the sleaze of Max’s casting couch and the heckling of the voluptuous receptionist and actress, Ulla (Hammed Animashaun). This new societal context, however, only gives the production more power, making it more outrageous and satirical. In a small nod to this reality, the imprisoned Max claims, “I’m not going into the toilet, I’m going into showbusiness.”

The constantly changing props and seamless costume changes of the chorus lend sleek precision to a beautifully polished yet deeply coarse musical which challenges, ridicules, and excites. I cannot recommend this production of ‘The Producers’ highly enough; it is the epitome of escapism.

Tags: camp, Mel Brooks, musical, production, Royal Exchange Theatre, the producers

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