“Look at these reviews…”
There’s little point denying the economic realities of mounting a major tour of a big musical – famous faces sell tickets. That two of the faces on the poster for The Producers belong to Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble feels something of a stretch though, given that they’re playing the same role (the latter taking over from the former mid-May) something of a promotional sleight of hand there that perhaps betrays a lack of confidence in the production.
And you can’t help but understand why whilst watching it, and reckoning it is going to be a long four months of a tour. In all honesty, this felt like a misconceived, mis-cast and misunderstood mishap of a mess. Splashing the likes of Jason Manford, Louie Spence and the aforementioned Jupitus against this hugely well-received Mel Brooks musical ought to have been more effective but the Matthew White’s production misses the mark on so many counts.
The worst thing is that there are glimmers of goodness in there, mainly located in the performances of theatrical stalwarts David Bedella and Tiffany Graves as Roger De Bris and Ulla respectively. Their natural stage presence and star quality is joyous to behold in their showcase numbers but as soon as they end, the pizazz rushes out of the show like a forlorn deflating balloon. To follow Graves’ excellent ‘Flaunt It’ with the laboured and lazy slapstick routine that inevitably comes feels like an insult.
Likewise with Louie Spence’s barely controlled antics as Carmen Ghia. White’s (necessarily?) light touch direction leaves him to prance around in his inimitable style but when such indulgence is followed by the tightly drilled moves of the company delivering another of Lee Proud’s routines, it simply shows him – and thus the production as a whole – up as a fraud. Phill Jupitus’ Franz Liebkind falls into a similar trap of an uninspired retread of a familiar persona, adding nothing vibrant or vital to the show at large.
Perhaps the show will improve throughout the run, finding a better equilibrium between what is expected from TV personalities and what a stage musical actually needs to really work. Not least, Manford will have to learn to deal better with onstage snafus rather than constantly working the gormless rabbit in the headlights look for Bloom, and work on showing more of a personality to engage with English’s proficient Bialystock, a role he’s been understudying, covering and playing for nearly 10 years now.
This being the first time I have seen the show might have had some impact – being familiar with the work might skew opinions another way and I should note the audience reaction around me was positive. But for me (and my two companions), this Producers was a shonky enough show that it would have rivalled Springtime for Hitler as a choice for the producers’ surefire flop.