New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Running for 2,502 performances and picking up a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards upon opening on Broadway in 2001 with a cast including Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick , The Producers has become somewhat of a cult hit and now receives another UK tour with new “star casting”.
The musical comedy tells the story of Broadway producer Max Bialystock, who with the help of accountant Leo Bloom takes the plunge after figuring out he can make more money from a flop than a hit – but their sure-fire flop “Springtime For Hitler” is a surprise smash. The Producers is a satirical, politically incorrect, romp of a show. It succeeds in the same way Book of Mormon does: shamelessly mocking, but also celebrating its subject matter at the same time – that said, this production lacks the kick you feel such a piece needs, it feels just short of the refined article and not really on top of its game. The small scale of the band, excellent as they are, does not lend itself to the grandness the production requires.
Cory English is a marvel. He does not put a foot wrong in the highly demanding role of Max Bialystock. His pace, attack and energy throughout is relentless, as his way character schemes for more money. This is certainly a performance out of the Nathan Lane textbook, and his rendition of ‘Betrayed’ is nothing short of a masterclass. David Bedella, through incredibly talented, is a strange choice of casting as Roger De Bris. His rich, resonant voice would not normally be thought of as having the flexibility and lightness for the part, and this is evident in the early scenes. But he makes the part his own, and is excellent in his big show number, Heil Myself as he struts around the stage in a perfectly camp fashion.
The “star casting” turns out not to be disastrous, but not ideal for the requirements of the show. Jason Manford has a fine voice indeed, and actually performs well, but his dancing and physicality is too heavy and clumsy for the part of Leo Bloom. He is completely outclassed by English, and this leaves the dynamic between the two lacking. His characterisation is maybe a little too inward for the feel of the production, and has the effect of making the relationship with Max jarring. Phil Jupitus gives us a very bolshy, sullen Franz Liebkind but his German accent is simply atrociously inconsistent – not German for the most part. Again, perhaps a more stylised, heightened characterisation may have worked better with what was going on around him, as he seemed out of sync with the rest of the cast.
Tiffany Graves gives a polished performance as Swedish showgirl Ulla. She titillates the audience as well as Leo, with her strong singing and complete understand of the way her character should function and fit into the plot. She’s certainly got it, and boy does she flaunt it. Credit is also due to the ensemble, who are present throughout and play a variety of roles. They keep the show spinning with their quirky personalities, and interactions with the principles.
The direction of Matthew White does bring a sense of freshness to the show, allowing the performers individual interpretation’s to emerge; for instance the Showboat-esque section given some real vocal punch by Tosh Wanogho-Maud, and Genevieve Nicole’s butch Shirley Markowitz. The costume design is amply extravagant and exuberant when required to be, and the set design is suitable – although with a rather uninspiring cloth backdrop.
The play’s good, but you feel this production could be more impressive – a hard task, and such as production needs to be spot on to be truly satisfying. But still worth a watch, particularly if you’ve not seen this show before.
Runs at Birmingham until 25th April 2015, and touring until 4th July 2015