Director: Matthew White
Music &Lyrics: Mel Brooks
Book: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Reviewer: Katy Roberts
This stylish revival of Mel Brooks’ 2001 musical looks great, sounds great, and is supported by a large cast with several strong performances. Unfortunately, with the musical’s script dating from 1968 (when the film on which the show is based was released), the humour feels outdated and just..not that funny anymore.
It’s a real shame, given the strength of the performances on display here. Cory English is fantastic as Max Bialystock, the down-and-out New York producer who recruits timid, downtrodden accountant Leo Bloom (Jason Manford) to help him pull off Broadway’s greatest scam. English captures Max wonderfully; he’s the dirty, mischievous, manipulative and money hungry ‘King of old Broadway’, and English pulls this off with great energy and aplomb. His performance of Betrayed in the show’s second half is fantastic – especially his comedic acting during the song’s ‘intermission’.
Making up the duo of The Producers, Jason Manford is brilliant as Leo. He’s the perfect foil for English’s madcap Max; a scaredy cat as timid as they come, who is also preposterously (and therefore endearingly) naïve. Manford’s Leo is a bit of a buffoon, but he’s a loveable one, and Manford captures Leo’s passion for show-business beautifully, singing incredibly strongly throughout.
Tiffany Graves is brilliant as Ulla, the Swedish temptress, with her powerhouse vocals, impeccably cod accent and strong dance choreography. As the gloriously camp Carmen Ghia, Stephane Anelli is a joy to watch, especially when interacting with David Bedella’s ‘worst director on Broadway”’, Roger de Bris. The pair of them together make for seriously camp comedy, and it is brilliant. Bedella also shines on his own, too; never more so than during the outrageously over-the-top Springtime for Hitler sequence in the second act, where Roger steps in as the campest Hitler in history.
Other strengths include Lee Proud’s exuberant choreography, which creates huge energy, especially during the big dance numbers. Paul Farnworth’s set design, which is incredibly impressive – given the budgetary and logistical restraints of a touring production, the seamless manoeuvring of staging and props works wonderfully to set the various scenes. Musical Director Andrew Hilton makes full use of the show’s small orchestra, although sometimes, the ensemble ends up drowning out leading characters at the beginning of the first half.
There is much to be impressed by in this show, however, even bringing all these aspects together does not create an outstanding show, and this is a result of the dated script. The show’s awkward, outdated humour resides most obviously in the character of Franz Liebkind (played here by comedian Ross Noble); a character so ridiculous and shouty that he ceases to be funny after the first five minutes on stage. Similarly, the old ladies, who appear a couple of times during the show, but are most prominent in Along Came Bialy, are simply not funny – relying on the men in dresses trope to try and score laughs just smacks of trying too hard. In addition, the whole scenario involving Bialy and his sex-crazed little old lady backers is nothing more than cheap, gross-out humour, and wears very thin very quickly.
This is a fun show, and there is lots to like about it – the strong leading and ensemble performances, the slick costume changes, the energetic choreography and impressive set design – but the old-fashioned humour means that this was one show that falls a bit flat.
Photo: Manuel Harlan | Runs until 4th July