REVIEW: The Producers at Milton Keynes Theatre

Phill Jupitus in The Producers, currently showing at Milton Keynes Theatre
Phill Jupitus in The Producers, currently showing at Milton Keynes Theatre
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Despite being almost 50 years old, Mel Brooks’ The Producers has retained its ‘bad taste’ cringe factor in its latest musical revival, currently showing at Milton Keynes theatre.

Starring comedian Jason Manford and Never Mind the Buzzcocks team captain Phil Jupitus, the show takes the same slightly risky attitude to casting as its fictional counterpart ’Springtime for Hitler’.

But, in a reflection of what happened in the story of the 1968 film musical, the pair both prove to be inspired choices and add a professional comic timing that provoke some big laughs from the audience.

In particular, Jupitus seems to be revelling in the role of the lederhosen-wearing Nazi who lovingly talks to his pet birds but maintains a constant air of pantomime villain, which memorably includes threatening the leader of the orchestra with assassination unless he plays in ‘B-flat’.

Manford (Leo Bloom) also displays a surprisingly good vocal range and nimble footwork during a tap dancing, cane-twirling ‘big finish’ in I Wanna Be a Producer.

However, the real star of the show is the lesser well-known Cory English, playing the devious, wise-cracking ball of energy that is the character of Max Bialystock.

English is the heartbeat of the show and provides a couple of hilarious moments of unscripted hilarity, one of which takes place during his breathtaking rendition of Betrayed, a song performed while he is sat on a toilet that recaps the whole show, including the interval.

As he stops for a brief moment of silence, a woman from the audience shouts ‘Take as long as you want’, ‘Thank you for caring’ he replies.

In a slightly subdued performance, David Bedella is ‘out-camped’ by reality TV star Louie Spence, who is perfectly cast as the incessantly pouting, mincing, twirling, choreographer Carmen Ghia.

However, Bedella does excel when he takes centre stage in his role as a ‘camp-Hitler’ during the ‘opening night’ of Springtime to Hitler.

Featuring glittering swastikas, female dancers with giant German food items on their head and huge Nazi-saluting hands, the production really does epitomise the ‘so bad it’s good’ comedy genre.

Perhaps the only part of the show that hasn’t aged well is the 1960s attitude to women represented by the character of Ulla, played by Tiffany Graves.

As a red-blooded male it is hard not to enjoy Graves strip down to her underwear in When You Got It, Flaunt It, but, in this day and age, it feels genuinely ‘bad taste’ to watch a scene where a woman is exploited by older, more powerful men.

In saying that, Graves certainly makes the most of her role and provides some amusing moments with her mock-Swedish accent.

Another of the highlights of this show is the band, who provide an excellent, rhythmic sound for the rise and fall, high tempo, tap-dancing choreography of songs like We Can Do It.

Praise should also go to director Matthew White and set designer Paul Farnsworth for creating a production where props are moved as songs are finishing so the pace of the show is maintained as each scene flows into the next.

This production of The Producers is expertly presented, superbly acted and innovatively choreographed. It is perhaps only held back by a strict adherence to some of the old-fashioned humour of the original but, on the whole, achieves another ‘bad taste’ musical success.

The Producers is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday. To book go to www.atgtickets.com