Theatre Review: THE PRODUCERS – Royal Exchange, Manchester

Julius D'Silva (Max Bialystock) & the Ensemble of THE PRODUCERS

Julius D’Silva (Max Bialystock) & the Ensemble of THE PRODUCERS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Combining satire with spectacle, Raz Shaw’s production of Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS is outrageous for all the right reasons

With hits like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, SWEET CHARITY and GUYS AND DOLLS already under its belt, the Christmas musical at the Royal Exchange is fast becoming a Manchester tradition. This year is no exception as Director Raz Shaw takes glitz and glamour to a whole new level in his latest production of Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS.

Based on the hit 1968 and 2001 films, THE PRODUCERS tells the story of Theatre Producer Max Bialystock (Julius D’Silva) who has fallen on hard times. Once the toast of Broadway, Bialystock’s string of recent failures means he’s now forced to romance rich old ladies to finance his efforts. So when his downtrodden accountant Leo Bloom (Stuart Neal) casually mentions that a theatrical flop could bring in more cash than a hit, the pair set out to find the worst script, the worst director and the worst actors in the industry to produce the biggest flop in Broadway history. What could possibly go wrong?

Stuart Neal (Leo Bloom) & Julius D'Silva (Max Bialystock) in THE PRODUCERS

Stuart Neal (Leo Bloom) & Julius D’Silva (Max Bialystock) in THE PRODUCERS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Those familiar with Brooks’ unique style of comedy will know that his work can often be a little risqué and THE PRODUCERS is no exception. The joke-laden script is so camp, crude and downright offensive that, at times, the audience doesn’t know whether to gasp or shriek with delight – yet it’s all the funnier because of it. Here, Director Raz Shaw doesn’t shy away from the ridiculousness of the piece but embraces it full heartedly, taking every opportunity to draw out the comedy and satire of the piece, whilst revelling in the glitz and glamour.

No more is this evident than in Ben Stones’ clever rotating set which exploits every nook and cranny of the Exchange’s intimate in-the-round theatre. Stones’ takes everything to the extreme, from the innovative scene changes to the outrageous costume design. Just when you think things can’t get any more bonkers, glitter bombs fall from the sky, actors dressed as tanks shimmy onto the stage and a rotating glitter swastika appears surrounding Hitler doing jazz hands.

Stuart Neal (Leo Bloom) & the Ensemble in THE PRODUCERS

Stuart Neal (Leo Bloom) & the Ensemble in THE PRODUCERS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Julius D’Silva completely convinces as confidence trickster Max Bialystock, his energetic portrayal and hilarious facial expressions delivering full-on belly laughs. Stuart Neal is equally excellent as bumbling accountant Leo Bloom, his tap-dancing rendition of I WANNA BE A PRODUCER standing out as one of the show’s most memorable performances. Elsewhere, Emily-Mae impresses as Swedish blonde Ulla while Charles Brunton is an absolute a joy to watch as flamboyant director Roger De Bris.

But the real magic happens when the 17-strong ensemble joins together to perform the show-stopping numbers OPENING NIGHT, KEEP IT GAY and SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER. It is these big song and dance numbers where the production really shines, as Stones design, Alistair David’s choreography, Jack Knowles’ lighting design and Jo Cichonska’s musical direction all combine to mix satire with spectacle.

Yet underneath all the silliness is a genuine fondness for show business. From the eccentric highs to the seedy lows, THE PRODUCERS is a joyous celebration of Broadway, of musicals and of love. While THE PRODUCERS may not seem like an obvious Christmas show, in spirit, it couldn’t be more perfect.

5 out of 5 stars

THE PRODUCERS runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 2 February 2019.