The latest ADC production The Producers is shocking stuff.
Scarcely clad chorus girls march round the stage festooned with swastikas, Adolph Hitler sings an enthusiastic song of self -praise, brown shirted storm troopers beam with brassy bravura as they anticipate the conquest of France and global war. Add teams of goose- stepping girls and boys with arms raised in the stiff-armed Nazi salute and you’ve got the picture.
The original 2001 Broadway production of the Producers adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks' 1968 film of the same name, was fiercely controversial from the day it opened. Not surprising given the theme: a musical about Nazis in which two theatre impresarios put on a show about the romance between Hitler and Eva Braun, complete with belting solo from Hitler himself. The story walks the dangerous line between comedy and bad taste. How far can Mel Brooks go? How outrageous can he get? There are no limits and the closer he gets to the edge the more shockingly funny the whole thing becomes.
But the Cambridge Stagehands’ production which played at the ADC Theatre September 12 – 14 is undoubtedly the funniest show you will see in a very long time. Relentlessly outrageous, the taboos break so often the audience scarcely has time to take a breath and Brooks’ quintessentially Jewish Bronx fast-quipping, snappy cynical take on life is evident in every scene.
No need to be nervous about this high level parody. So brilliantly done is it, that energy, verve and sheer audacity pumped round the auditorium. By the finale the audience were almost as high as the performers; here is a show which takes you with it and allows not a second of reflection.
We meet producer Max Bialystock, brilliantly played by Joe Dickens. In despair and in debt Max meets his accountant, nervous mousey Leopold Bloom (a tour de force from Ben Chamberlain). Leopold muses on an idea. A show which had to close after the first night would really be the answer - its producer could pocket the proceeds of backers and retire to Rio. ‘Springtime for Hitler’ emerges triumphantly from the pile of possibilities. Repellent in intent, the proposed musical glorifies the Nazi leader and, Max reasons, will fold on opening. The two collaborators visit the author, a crazed leftover storm trooper played with hilarious sincerity by Matt Banks.
Now armed with a dreadful script, the couple hurry off to source the worse Director in the world, and we meet Roger De Bris (played by Duncan Earlam) in his opulent flat. He is attired in a glittering gown and about to sashay forth, attended by his fawning attendant Carmen (David Snelling). For sheer camp brilliance, Earlam and Snelling steal the show at this point; the dialogue is devastating, culminating in a rousing chorus of their life philosophy: ‘Make it Gay.’
Meanwhile back at the Producers’ flat we meet Ulla, a gorgeous platinum blonde Swedish starlet played with devastating comic precision by Evie Lane. Ulla’s song and dance routine (her own composition based on a line shouted to her in the street by Max of all people: ‘If you’ve got it Flaunt it’) builds from demure and muted to a belting on-top-of-the-desk crescendo whilst Max and Leo gasp in collapsed admiration on the sofa. So they should. For a caricature, this performance is brilliantly nuanced and mesmerizingly minx. Ulla’s eventual starring role in the production of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ is as Eva Braun complete with high heels, bikini and eagle-feathered Imperial cloak.
There is a steely purpose here - the ultimate revenge on cruelty and pride is laughter. The theatrical displays of autocrats, their fascination with parades is an open goal for parody. Derision is what the strutting tyrants of the Third Reich would have hated more than any humiliation.
Mel Brooks really does not know where to draw the line; his imagination makes the Producers ignite like few musicals. The young cast managed to convince an audience that they really were the hoofers and Shysters, the hip chicks and über-camp dance boys of Broadway. A brilliant on-stage band vamp up the action all the way through and crack along with punishing pace, led by a concentrated conductor in Kieran Enticknap. A captivating night at the theatre.