The Producers: a Mel Brooks musical, Bridewell Theatre, London

London has myriad nooks and crannies. Tucked away on an old alley off Fleet Street is the Bridewell theatre, where has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystok is resigned to a life of first-night flops and exploring certain other nooks and crannies in order to finance them.

The Producers, a musical of a film about a musical, could only have been written by Mel Brooks. No one else would have dared. Even in this, a wonderfully professional amateur production of the thing, there are still sharp intakes of breath when we see the first swastika armband – still not as many laughs as this fabulous script deserved due, I would guess, concerns of taste.

Where else will you find a part listed as “Lead Tenor Stormtrooper”?

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the plot of this classic, where two by turns bumbling and scheming men put on Springtime For Hitler, a musical so crass that it’s sure to be a profitable disaster.

The camp extravaganza of the titular number is performed beautifully here, but what’s wonderful about the stage version is that none of the other songs pal in comparison. And the plot, fleshed out (in more ways than one) with much larger roles for movie bit-part characters like Ulla the Swedish secretary, is both meta and narratively satisfying.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Euan Brown’s perma-gurning, unhinged Bavarian playwright Franz Liebkind, played with just the right amount of camp and artful artlessness; a special word too, to the puppeteers, who did an incredible job on the Nazi pigeons.

Of the two leads, who both have a ludicrous amount to do, Ricky Hutchinson plays the slight, tentative Leo Bloom with a subtle physicality, while Dom Conte owns the character of Max Bialystok, whether he’s placating Nazis, wooing old ladies, or singing about the sheer injustice of it all.

A word, too, for the ensemble, who were magnificent, whether shifting scenes as glamorous showgirls, going full Irish as NYC cops, and, most memorably of all, dancing and singing as those relentless grannies, swinging their mobility aids into the air like they just don’t care.

With a fab live band, lovely location, and strong direction, this was one of the most fun nights out I’ve had in ages. Build a Time Machine and go see. It’s worth changing the course of history for…

The Producers was on at the Bridewell Theatre in the third week of May 2022

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