The Producers

Mar 24 2015 | By More

★★★★☆    Flop stars

Festival Theatre: Mon 23 – Sat 28 March 2015
Review by Martin Gray

Two men in search of a flop, star in a show that’s anything but.

The curtain came down early on the first night of The Producers at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. Two songs in, and a technical hitch brought the safety drapes down on the Mel Brooks musical.


Jason Manford as Leo Bloom and Cory English as Max Bialystock. photo: Manuel Harlan

Jason Manford as Leo Bloom and Cory English as Max Bialystock. photo: Manuel Harlan

Seriously, it was mildly disappointing that the flow was dammed for five minutes, but in a story whose protagonists want their new Broadway show to flop, it just seemed so right.

And when the curtain rose once more it was to good-natured applause and cheers from an audience as warmed as the bulb which I believe popped us into that unexpected intermission.

Our heroes, Max Bialystock, a serial failure as a producer, and Leo Bloom, an accountant with stars in his eyes, realise that cooking the books means a show that closes on the opening night could make them rich. All they have to do is find a terrible script, put it in the hands of the worst producer in town, employ tragically poor performers, and $2 million is theirs.

To raise the initial investment, Max uses his tried and trusted technique of, shall we say, ‘pleasing’ rich old ladies with nicknames such as Kiss-Me-Feel-Me and Clinch-Me-Pinch-Me. An unlikely leading lady shows up in the shapely shape of Swedish Ulla, a true herring heroine, while the beyond camp Roger De Bris is entrusted with the script.

theatrical disaster is guaranteed

And soon it’s Springtime for Hitler with the Führer set to be played by the play’s author, Franz Liebkind, a pigeon-bonkers Nazi exile who never made it to Argentina. A theatrical disaster is guaranteed…

Goose Steps and Glitter. It can only be Springtime for Hitler. Photo Manuel Harlan

Goose Steps and Glitter. It can only be Springtime for Hitler. Photo Manuel Harlan

With Brooks’ hugely amusing script – co-written with Thomas Meehan – and lyrics, and his music homaging Broadway’s best, The Producers is halfway there to giving audiences a great time. And the cast assembled for this touring production take it home.

Cory English pitches Max perfectly, making him a little bit of a sleazeball but entirely likeable. He bounds around the stage with a grace that belies his character’s stocky frame and still has the energy to make his biggest number, Betrayed – in which he sums up in song everything we’ve seen so far – something very special.

Jason Manford makes the perfect partner, his Leo being a bag of neuroses that adds up to something very sweet. Watching the ‘very very very very very unhappy’ numbers man change from hunched, shambling mess to a contented player is a delight, and a testament to Manford’s skill. While I knew he’d sung a little on stage previously, to see a man best-known for a million TV panel shows deliver such numbers as That Face, Till Him and I Wanna Be a Producer in a gorgeous tenor was pretty special.

stunt casting

Another comic, Phill Jupitus, is a hoot as Liebkind, managing to be deeply sinister and deeply funny, while showing unexpected musicality. Louie Spence – a piece of stunt casting if ever I expected one – is actually rather splendid as Roger’s South American ‘common-law assistant’ Carmen. Yes, he twirls all the time, and does cartwheels, and pouts, but who knew he could handle an accent, sing somewhat and time a gag?

Louie Spence as Carmen Ghia. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Louie Spence as Carmen Ghia. Photo: Manuel Harlan

I can’t imagine a better Roger than David Bedella, whose resonant speaking voice, adaptable pipes and dancing dash see him threatening to steal every scene he’s in. His Liza Minnelli-style turn as a very fancy Fuhrer in Heil Myself is something to treasure.

And then there’s Tiffany Graves, whose light touch makes the super-sexy, fabulously flexible, almost innocent Ulla the object of both Max and Leo’s affections. A truly intelligent, instinctive performer, she’s one more perfect ingredient in a fabulously well-balanced cast.

I’ve rarely seen a show in which all the main performers complement one another so well – and the ensemble are so impressive, individually and en masse, that I don’t doubt there’s a load of excellent understudies ready to step in should any of the stars actually break a leg. You want dancing old ladies? Singing accountants? Stepdancing Irish cops? They can do it… director Matthew White, choreographer Lee Proud and the rest of the production team must be grinning from ear to ear.

And musical director Andrew Hilton’s band doesn’t put a note wrong with Brooks’ accomplished score, keeping things moving marvellously.

I don’t know if anyone reading this has enough cash to invest in a show, but definitely  invest in a ticket – Max and Leo would simply hate The Producers, because this production is a million miles from a flop.


Running time 2 hours, 50 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Monday 23 – Saturday 28 March 2015
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Thursday and Saturday matinee at 2.30 pm
Tickets and further details:

The Producers on tour 2015:
23 – 28 March Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
30 March – 4 April Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
7 – 11 April Southend-on-sea
Cliffs Pavilion
01702 351135 Book online
13 -18 April Brighton
Theatre Royal Brighton
0844 871 7650 Book online
20 – 25 April Birmingham
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
27 April – 2 May Bristol
Bristol Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
4 – 9 May Belfast
Grand Opera House
02890 241919 Book online
11 – 16 May Sunderland
Empire Theatre
0844 871 3022 Book online
18 – 23 May Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
26 – 30 May Southampton
Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
1 – 6 June Liverpool
Empire Theatre
08448 713 017 Book online
8 – 13 June Leeds
Leeds Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
15 – 20 June Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
22 – 27 June Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
29 June – 4 July Oxford
Oxford New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
6 – 11 July Dublin
Dublin Bord Gais
0818 719 377 Book online


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