By Mel Brooks, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Directed by Nikolai Foster
GSA Graduate Company
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 18th June 2012
Steve and I had only seen the film of The Producers up to this point, so I was keen to see what the GSA would do this year following the excellent Fiddler last time. I wasn’t disappointed. It took me a little while to warm up to Max, but once Leo came along and their plot got started, I was completely hooked. The writing is superb, with lots of humour and some marvellous songs, including a Fiddler pastiche, a negro spiritual and many others.
I won’t go into the story; it’s different from the film, but still near enough for jazz, as my Dad used to say. The cast did another excellent job, changing from old dears to Nazi pigeons (had to be seen to be believed), office workhorses to dancing Nazis. One of the men was really disappointed to find he wasn’t allowed to be a showgirl, and in truth he did look stunning in his spangly red costume, but it was not to be.
There was a New York cityscape at the back, with a girder balcony in front of it. Underneath were central double doors (most of the time) which were mainly the entrance to Max’s office, but moonlighted occasionally for other locations. To emphasise the theatrical nature of the musical, the rest of the sets were created from big theatre hampers that they wheeled around. These hampers stored props, became desks, opened up to reveal posters, etc. – very versatile. I loved the looser feel these gave to the show, and I’m sure they made the scene changes much easier.
For the scenes with Roger de Bris, the director, a gold curtain swept across the stage, with only some stairs peeking through, while the whole stage was transformed again for the Springtime For Hitler performance, looking altogether more glamorous. We didn’t get to see the reactions of Max and Leo during the show, but the post-show trauma song, Where Did We Go Right?, was hilarious.
The individual performances were all good. Craig Golding was very strong as Roger de Bris, taking over the lead role of Hitler at the drop of a hat. Rob Eyles, who played his assistant Carmen, really caught our eye; his spot-on camp bitch performance almost stole the show at times. Brittany Field did well with the tall gorgeous blond Swedish character, but let’s face it, these bimbo roles are not the best parts that Mel Brooks has ever written.
Max Bialystock was played by Hans Rye, and he did remarkably well in such a tough role. Not only was he competing with the memory of Zero Mostel, he was also playing much older than he is, and given that musical performers have to take good care of their bodies, he was never going to look like a totally dissipated has-been just by turning up. He had to act the part instead, and after a few scenes I was happy to go along with his performance. He had me hooked long before his big number, Betrayed, which was excellent.
Rob Houchen may have had it slightly easier as Leopold Bloom, since that character can be younger than Max, but he was up against a master of nervousness in Gene Wilder. Even so, he managed to establish his own performance and maintained it superbly, with some of the funniest business of the evening. His singing and dancing were great too, while the standard of the whole cast was excellent. Good luck to everyone with their careers.
My final mention has to be those Nazi pigeons. Operated by the female members of the cast, they flew around, perched everywhere, sang a rousing song, gave Nazi salutes (with the armbands, too) and generally stole the show. (Never work with animals, puppets, animal puppets …… )
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me