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Theatre Review: The Producers at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (26/05/2015)


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Mel Brooks, one of Hollywood’s most accomplished film-makers, created The Producers for the big screen back in 1967.

Now in 2015, based on this much-loved and Academy Award winning movie, The Producers is on a UK tour, stopping by Southampton’s Mayflower. The hilarious musical comedy has taken Broadway and the West End by storm, winning 12 Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, but does it live up to the accolades?

The notion of a star-studded cast often passes me by in theatre, with washed up soap stars and X-Factor contestants taking up most of the touring spots. However, The Producers’ star-studded cast is very different. The UK’s most loved comedian, Jason Manford, takes centre stage in the role of Leo Bloom, the shy accountant with dreams of becoming a Broadway producer. Manford’s not just a ‘star’ off the stage; he shines brighter than ever on the stage too. With his operatic talents, his vocals are on point, and his on stage chemistry with Cory English, a veteran of previous productions of The Producers, will make those that have been working together for decades green with envy.

English plays washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock - the wheeling, dealing, King of Broadway or, moreover, the ex-King of Broadway as he attempts to climb back onto the throne. His experience in this role really shines through as his diction and accent are as perfect as his singing and timing. Mischievous, money-hungry, albeit uber charming - especially with the older ladies; see ‘Along Came Bialy’ for a fantastic musical number.

English’s outlandish larger-than-life Bialystock works seamlessly alongside Manford’s unbelievably naive, unknowingly devious Bloom. They both melt the hearts of the audience with their unlikely partnership as they attempt the answer the all important question: ‘Where did we go right?’

Accompanying the lead performers are a phenomenal cast with a particular mention of the other ‘star performer’, zany comedian Ross Noble. He plays insane scriptwriter/Neo-nazi Franz Liebkind with such passion it is hard not to burst into fits of hysterics at the outrageousness of his character. The Producers is all about highlighting the extremities of theatre, and Tiffany Graves does just that in her performance as Ulla Unpronouncablesecondname, the drop-dead gorgeous Swede. From the moment she storms through the door and into her rendition of 'If You Got It, Flaunt It', you know you're going to be in for a ride. 

Brooks’ musical lays bare theatrical convention, and then tears it to shreds in this satirical romp. The techniques in which this is done come in all forms inThe Producers, but more importantly, it is at the centre of the plot: putting on a broadway flop and attempting to make a killing. What could possibly go wrong? Brooks transforms the wrongs into absolutely hilarious rights as ‘Springtime For Hitler’ takes to the stage, on the stage (this is meta, play-within-a-play, type stuff). The pinnacle of this technique comes in the form of Bialystock reenacting the entire show, intermission and ice cream included (‘£2.50!’ he exclaims), in his hyperactive precis.

Overall The Producers is an absolute hoot with a truly star-studded cast, and one of the funniest performances ever to grace the stage at the Mayflower Theatre.

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