Pigeons, Nazis, many different herrings, cooked books and little old ladies – all the ingredients for a wonderfully funny & entertaining evening. Of course, it’s the writing of Mel Brooks that binds all these obscure & lets face it weird components together in his timeless “The Producers”, but it still needs an amazing cast & stage team to really make things work. Tonight I saw Darlington Operatics Society’s delivery and not only did they pull it off, it was as good a production as any version I have been to see – and I have seen the Nathan Lane version in the West End.
The cast are wonderful – Ken Horsley would give the aforementioned Mr Lane a real run for his money, blending pure charm with wily wit and a dash of dirty and delivering it with superb, powerful vocals. His solo in the prison jail, complete with personal intermission was perfection and his lecherous yet timid flirting with the little old ladies had everyone laughing till we couldn’t breathe. Dan Brookes as Leo Bloom had an accent so in tune with his character that I swear if you closed your eyes you’d think it was a young Woody Allen – full of New York angst bordering on neurotic and yet maintaining the innocence which Leo’s character demands. Again, his stage presence and delivery through the songs was excellent and the two leads compliment each other perfectly both in style & harmony – excellent casting by the Director Martyn Knight.
The story, for anyone who still isn’t aware of The Producers, is about a failed Broadway producer whose accountant realises, quite by chance, that you could make money with a flop than with a hit - in effect swindle all the backers into investing into a show so bad it closes on the first night without paying back any returns. Leo leaves his job as an accountant (done with the best resignation song & dance) and together they forge a partnership to produce a complete failure. Thus the plot is set to find & stage such a show, and they hit upon ‘Springtime for Hitler’ as the vehicle for their daring double cross.
Along the way they take on a Swedish secretary slash receptionist, Ulla, who is delightfully played by Claire Willmer with all the sultry allure and charms we’ve seen in other Swedish sex-bombs ( Britt Ekland & Victoria Silvstedt spring to mind). She’s got it and she flaunts it perfectly. They engage the services of Roger DeBris and Carmen Chia (a delicious Julian Cound and the campest of camp Chris Kelly) to direct the show and arrange the unbelievable choreography along with Roger’s production team.
The show itself is Mel Brooks at his very best; how to offend as many people as possible and leave the rest wondering whether they should be ashamed to be laughing. I wondered whether some of the bigger elements seen in the West End production would have to be sacrificed but I am delighted to say nothing was missing; the costumes, the lighting, even the over-head shot of the marching swastika were done with great aplomb.
Huge credit must go to the whole Operatic society; this is not an easy show to produce & is very demanding from both scenery & timing, costume changes & music styles, but it was as good a performance as I have ever seen on this stage (and if you read my reviews you will see I have been quite a few times) and probably ranks in my top 10 anywhere. The backing cast morph from audience, usherettes, old ladies, prisoners, dancers, accountants you name it – probably the most diverse set of characters you could ask someone to cover in one show.
Proving that you don’t need to go to London for excellent entertainment, Darlington Operatic Society’s The Producers is on at Darlington Civic until the 5th November – go & see it and I guarantee you’ll feel like the King of all Broadway.