Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s hard to imagine the kind of outrage that must have been generated by Mel Brooks’ The Producers on it’s original release in 1967, when it’s tap-dancing Nazi stormtroopers and flamboyantly gay directors must have touched a whole bunch of raw nerves. Adapted as a musical by Brooks and Thomas Meehan in the early naughties, it’s one of those rare creatures, a brilliant film, that became an excellent musical, that became a superb musical film. The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group have some very big jackboots to fill here, but I’m happy to say that they rise to that daunting undertaking with their usual brio.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, this is the tale of struggling theatre impresario, Max Bialystock (Max McLaughlin) and shy, nervy accountant Leo Bloom (Rob Merriam). The two men form an unlikely alliance when Bloom casually points out that a producer might easily take a bigger profit from a disastrous flop than from a major success, provided the account ledgers are suitably cooked. With this in mind, Bialystock sets about procuring two million dollars to fund a new musical by seducing every elderly lady in his little black book – and, once they have the budget, Bialystock and Bloom go in search of the worst show ever written, plus the worst actors to perform it. Pretty soon, they settle on a little piece promisingly entitled Springtime for Hitler…
This is unashamedly a creation of its era and happily, there’s been no attempt to soften the outrageous content to suit more modern sensibilities. The cast play it exactly as written, which leads to the only false note, when Bloom insults Bialystok by calling him ‘Fatty,’ (something that worked well enough for Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane, but is simply puzzling when applied to the lithe figure of McLaughlin). But that’s a minor niggle in what is, otherwise, a very satisfying production.
McLaughlin and Merriam make an appealing duo, while Georgie Rogers plays Swedish wannabe Ulla with the volume turned up to 11 and Will Peppercorn is a suitably deranged Franz Liebkind, a man who thinks nothing of wearing a German steel helmet and a swastika as leisurewear. Supporting actors make the most of their smaller roles (I particularly like Gordon Stackhouse’s turn as Carmen Ghia, a performance so archly camp that every gesture manages to evoke a belly laugh). But this musical is, of course, the very definition of an ensemble piece with twenty-two actors confidently moving around the small stage, singing and dancing up an absolute storm, even when incorporating their zimmer frames. And let’s not forget, there’s a seventeen piece band in this show, conducted by Caitlin Morgan, who deliver an assured musical accompaniment throughout.
Yes, this is a student show and of course, they don’t have the budget for fancy effects and state-of-the-art scenery, but when it comes to talent, The Producers is positively bursting with the stuff. If you like the original film, you’ll love this and you’re certain to come out, like me, with a great big smile on your face.