The Producers

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, lyrics and music by Mel Brooks
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
(2004)

Nathan Lane and Lee Evans

For someone who professes to hate musicals, it is almost painful to admit how good Susan Stroman's London transfer of The Producers is.

Amongst a host of stars, Nathan Lane who won numerous awards for his performance in the original Broadway production is outstanding. He has an amazing charisma that belies his short, squat figure. Like Simon Russell Beale, Ken Stott or even Batman's great friend the Penguin, he grabs the eye at his initial entrance and holds it for the next three hours or so.

This is not to belittle either his English colleague, Lee Evans who could be Norman Wisdom's grandson in his mannerisms, which only occasionally take over excessively; or female lead Leigh Zimmerman, a powerful singer and very professional dancer. This Amazonian Lady who looks about 6 ft 3 ins, plays multi-talented Ulla, secretary to Bialystock and Bloom, names that she pronounces unintelligibly but incredibly sexily. She also doubles as decorator, superstar actress and, causing much jealousy to certain male members of the audience, lover of Hall's bumbling accountant.

The plot line is surprisingly strong as failed theatrical producer/impresario Max Bialystock (Lane) and his Joycean accountant, Leopold Bloom (Evans), come up with a fail-safe way to get rich. They will rook Bialystock 's massive collection of little old lady angels (at one point, sixteen of them do a great tap-dance on Zimmer Frames) by producing the worst show ever.

Their problem, inevitably is that despite a terrible script from a neo-Nazi played by Nicholas Colicos, a man with a great voice and a very funny team of performing pigeons, and awful direction from the drippily camp team of Conleth Hill and James Dreyfus, they get themselves a hit. Hill has a fine time, entering cross-dressed as New York's Chrysler Building before becoming a singing Hitler from the Dawn French school of acting.

The single poignant moment of the musical comes as poor Max realises that his partners in crime have legged it to Rio leaving him behind bars. His solo song, Betrayed acts as a kind of early epilogue to the show and his life.

The Producers will be a success for a number of reasons, not least some really memorable toe-tapping tunes. The most famous is Springtime for Hitler, led by Stephen Carlile. However, a couple of duets from Max and Leo (despite Evan's far from perfect voice), including We Can Do It, are not far behind and when Leigh Zimmermann gets going, there is a concern that some of the older male members of the audience might find their hearts giving out.

The set may be unexciting but the costumes impress and as one would expect from Susan Stroman, the choreography is very strong with a chorus made up of professional singers and dancers of high quality.

The humour is Woody Allen-style in the tradition of Jewish Vaudeville and rarely lets up. Plumbing tastelessness 35 years before Jerry Springer The Opera, The Producers may offend a handful with its overt gay references and necessarily Nazi-led gags. Ultimately, the charm and overall good humour plus a dash of theatrical magic should mean that it pleases many more.

Perhaps the best compliment that one can pay The Producers is to suggest that not only will it draw in musical lovers for years to come but it might even convert some heretics! Go see it.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher