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The Producers (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Producers

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks

Festival Players

Directed by Alan Hay

ADC Theatre, Cambridge

 Star rating 5

This show is one of the finest non-pro productions I’ve seen in a very long time. It fizzes with talent and, best of all, this cast (and their director, Alan Hay) know exactly how to time and drop a joke or a witty line. They deliver every double-entendre with such professionally intelligent ease that this is the funniest production of The Producers I’ve ever seen – and it is, I’m afraid, a show which can feel creakily wooden in the hands of some companies.

Mel Brook’s book, is of course, innately hilarious: a pair of producers fraudulently set out to produce a Broadway flop because, for complicated accountancy reasons, they will make much more money than if it’s a hit. So they choose the utterly dire Springtime for Hitler and the “worst director in New York.” Then of course, the critics take it for brilliant satire and it becomes a hit. It’s full of theatrical “in-jokes” such as walking through the fourth wall, advancing stage left and the audition scene (a string of entertaining cameo roles for members of this productions’s excellent ensemble) is a glorious send up of a process which amateurs and professionals at all levels will identify with.

Matt Wilkinson as Max Bailystock, the has-been famous producer, talks with his eyes, and can communicate a whole sub text with one twist of his body. Apparently he has an academic day job with spiders and dactyls – I hope they, and his students, appreciate his remarkable talent as actor and singer because he really is the tops. Leo Bloom, the accountant who becomes Bailystock’s business partner,  played by Matt Brown is splendid too – he has a wonderful line in apparent wide-eyed innocence which conceals his burgeoning confidence – especially with women. The pair work together very well indeed.

Also in this rich mix is Luke Thomas as Roger de Bris – the campest most, excessive gay theatre director imaginable. He minces, flounces, flirts and flaunts – and sings beautifully. Jonathan Rosten is super as as the dour German Franz Leibkind with a  singing voice powered like a magnificent jaguar – both the animal and the car. And Elle Brown has huge, fun as the sexy Swedish secretary, Ulla – another terrific performance.

Meanwhile – as usual at the ADC – the band is tucked away in a side room. It’s musically very strong with thirteen players under Ana Sanderson’s baton. She ensures that everything in Mel Brooks’ tuneful score gels happily.

Of course this is a low budget show with a pretty basic set (the wobbly doors don’t detract from anything) but the overstage side screens are cleverly used especially when we get a birds’ eye view of Frances Sayer’s imaginative choreography. And talking of birds,  full marks to Mike Rudin for Franz Liebkind’s cage of moving pigeons. It’s quite a show stealer.

I’ve seen and reviewed Festival Players shows many times but they really have excelled themselves with this one. It runs until  08 June – get there if you possibly can.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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