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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 2004, 11:42 GMT
Review: The Producers
By Neil Smith
BBC News

The Producers
The Producers was a huge hit on Broadway

Hit Broadway musical The Producers has opened in London after a difficult rehearsal period that saw Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss withdraw from the show just days before previews began.

Watching Dreyfuss' replacement Nathan Lane recreate his Tony-award winning tour de force on the West End stage, it's hard to imagine anyone else ever performing the role.

Applause

Lane, 48, is virtually unknown on these shores though, as the voice of Timon the Meerkat in Disney's The Lion King, he has a dedicated juvenile following.

There is something in The Producers to offend everybody

But few of those lucky enough to have tickets for The Producers will complain at having the original star back in the role he has made his own.

The actor is reported to be earning 39,000 a week for the duration of his engagement, which runs until 8 January.

Judging from the spontaneous applause and standing ovations that have greeted his endeavours, he is worth every penny.

Adapted from the 1968 Mel Brooks film, The Producers tells of Max Bialystock, a struggling Broadway impresario who discovers he can make more money from a flop than a hit.

With the help of timid accountant Leo Bloom (Lee Evans), Bialystock sets about staging the worst play he can find.

Lee Evans
Lee Evans "holds his own"
Eventually he stumbles upon Springtime for Hitler, "a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" by Nazi sympathiser Franz Leibkind (Nicolas Colicos).

The pair then hire the worst director in Manhattan: a gay fop named Roger DeBris (Conleth Hill) who never goes anywhere without his fey partner Carmen Ghia (James Dreyfus).

All that's left is to raise the money, which Max does by seducing an army of randy old ladies.

With hoofing geriatrics, Nazi pigeons and a Busby Berkeley pageant featuring goose-stepping stormtroopers, there is something in The Producers to offend everybody.

But such is the level of sustained hilarity and mock outrage you are laughing too hard to care.

Shamelessly

Lane leads from the front with a ceaselessly inventive performance that shamelessly plays to the gallery.

Nathan Lane and Lee Evans
Nathan Lane stepped in to join Lee Evans in London
And while no one would confuse Evans for a singer or a dancer, the British comedian's repertoire of jerks, gurns and pratfalls means he just about holds his own.

The statuesque Leigh Zimmerman brings a touch of glamour to the proceedings as Ulla, the Swedish siren who comes between them.

And Susan Stroman's spirited direction and choreography deliver a healthy number of genuinely show-stopping moments.

If there is a weak point here, it's Brooks' own music and lyrics.

The former feels overly familiar - a bit of Sondheim here, a nod to Gershwin there - while the latter lack both wit and imagination.

"To trip the light fantastic/We picked dancers who were spastic" is representative of the rather coarse humour on display.

Star quality

Thankfully, Lane has enough charisma and "chutzpah" to soar over any weaknesses in the material.

He also has a born showman's ability to be the centre of attention even when he is doing nothing.

All of which more than vindicates the producers' decision to bring him across the Atlantic.

The question remains, however, whether the show will ever find an actor big enough to fill his shoes.

And with Lane off to shoot a film version of the musical in the New Year, it's a question that needs answering sooner rather than later.

The Producers is at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London.


BBC News website users sent us their views.

How wonderful it is to have fun and laughter (of the unstoppable hysterical kind) back on the musicals menu once again. This show is an absolute joy - I saw it last week in preview and I still break into a silly grin when I see a poster!
Paul King, Isleworth

We bought tickets for The Producers as soon as they went on sale in February and I was very excited about seeing Richard Dreyfuss on a London stage. When he dropped out I was very disappointed. However, Nathan Lane is a marvel and the show is terrific. Great songs and laugh-out-loud funny. I now feel privileged to have seen Mr Lane star in this superb show. He will be a very tough act to follow.
Jez, London

Excellent, the most entertaining musical I have seen. We laughed from start to end, well worth seeing and seeing again. Superb cast.12 out of 10
Pascale Worth, Slough

It is hard to express in words just how good Nathan Lane is in The Producers. I am a huge fan of the original film and thought that Zero Mostel was untouchable, but Lane's performance is unbelievably brilliant and he is just as good as, if not better than, Mostel. Personally, I think Lee Evans does a decent job but is slightly miscast and is not as good in the role as Gene Wilder or Matthew Broderick - but with Nathan Lane on stage it doesn't really matter.
Michael, London

This is the funniest thing you'll ever see in a theatre. Absolutely fantastic. I laughed until I cried. Go see it with Nathan Lane though. As the reviewer rightly said, it will be difficult to fill his shoes, although the entire cast are excellent. A breath of fresh air among the usual Lloyd Webber stuff.
Erik, London

We saw The Producers during previews in October, I can't say how much we enjoyed it. Nathan, Lee and the cast were amazing, from start to finish we were crying with laughter. The only disappointment was at the end when we had to leave. We would have sat through the show twice over, will be going to see it again before Nathan and Lee finish in Jan. It's a must for everyone even if you are easily offended.
Neil & Natasha, Cumbria

We went to a preview showing on Saturday. We enjoyed the show so much we stayed in London a extra couple of days, so we could go again on Monday! Nathan Lane has made this show his own - we just cannot imagine anyone else playing Max.
Jan Dixcey, Isle of Wight

An amazing production, hilarious, with a fantastic cast. As well as Lane and Evans, James Dreyfuss who plays the part of the Director's assistant is brilliant! There are moments of pure comic genius - the Nazi-saluting pigeons, Leo Blooms' seduction of Ulla, as well as great songs and good dancing. It is as good as any of the great musical productions to hit the London stage (Chicago, Saigon, Phantom etc.,) but the comical scenes make it in my book the best!
Russell, London

I saw a preview of this show last week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nathan Lane is just so perfect for the role of Max. Lee Evans was fun and gelled well with Nathan Lane, although at times he appeared to feel awkward and uncomfortable. Overall very entertaining and well worth a visit, one of the best musicals I have seen for a while. It certainly gives the audience a great "feelgood factor".
Rob Haggar, Middlesex

Quite simply outstanding. Nathan Lane's performance cannot be improved and together with the wonderful Lee Evans and Conlith Hill, they provide the best nights entertainment I've had in 30 years of going to the theatre.
Stephen, London

The show is a triumph and Nathan Lane an inspiration. Lee Evans surprises with a good voice - it's a real double act, not just Nathan carrying the show. Riotously funny, fresh and truly spectacular, this is the show Mel Brooks should have done all along. My party of six agreed it was the best show we've seen since Anything Goes.
Simon Craven, Ely

From now on it will always be the Theatre Royal, Nathan Lane "
Brian Tipping, London

Enjoyed every minute of the performance which exceeded my highest expectations. Having Mel Brooks join the curtain call was a supreme highlight. The cast and sets were fabulous.
Anthony Lewis, London

I laughed so hard I was nearly sick, especially at Nathan Lane. He ought to be given double salary to keep him on after January. The whole cast was very strong, and the choreography excellent - I think this show will goose step and goose step for years, but how will they fill Lane's jackboots?
Brian, London

Having attended the opening night in the West End, my initial feelings are ones of sympathy for the producers of The Producers - they are going to be hard-pressed to find someone to fill Nathan Lane's shoes once his short stint is over. His comic timing was even more impressive than the enormously talented Lee Evans, and the pair of them together shone. I was also equally impressed by Evans' singing - he's got a great voice on him! Overall, a brilliantly funny production, and I would recommend trying to see it before Lane disappears to do the film.
Jacki, London

Saw the show in New York 18 months ago and this version is better. Loved every moment, great gags, great music and a great cast. Musicals don't get better than this.
Lenny Rothstein, London

I saw a preview about 10 days ago and couldn't find fault with it! I am a fan of the original film and was worried that the stage version would disappoint me. Oh boy was I wrong. Nathan Lane is possibly better than Zero Mostel (the original Max Bialystock) and even the usually irritating Lee Evans was an enjoyable and endearing Leo Bloom. Evans can sing, can dance and act. The lead actors fill the stage from beginning to end and are extremely well supported by all the other players and dancers. At the end I stood and cheered for a performance I can't imagine being bettered. Yes, it's a cringeworthy bad-taste musical but what a show! When Nathan Lane moves on they are going to have a real challenge replacing him.
Danny W, London

I saw it last week in London in previews. Hilarious, but I found it difficult to conquer the unease I felt at the humour. Watching goose-stepping in swastika formation made me uncomfortable. The Producers storyline is of the absurdity that audiences find gay Nazi jokes funny - and yet that is exactly what are asked to do.
SDC, London

Simply brilliant. I don't think I have laughed so much in years!
Kelly, Wales

I saw the second preview and was amazed by this show. Having worked in a large scale touring venue I have seen more musicals than most, and as a rule I dislike them, more so if they are billed as a 'comedy musical'. The Producers just blew me away from the word go - it is funny and spectacular, and to be honest I am very glad that Nathan Lane was playing Bialystock.
Adam Gent, Oldham

I saw the show on Saturday evening with my family. I have seen the film 10 times at least and was dubious that a musical could match the delights of the film. In fact, we never stopped laughing - Nathan Lane is simply superb, the staging is fantastic. Lee Evans can sing, which was a revelation - he may not be a natural singer but he didn't make you wince, and his acting fits the part perfectly. West End musicals can be very disappointing in my experience - this one exceeded my expectations, it was fabulous and I can't wait to see it again.
Franni, London

After overcoming the disappointment of Richard Dreyfuss not being in the show, my partner and I were bowled over by the performance of Nathan Lane. I have always been a fan of the film which I watched again shortly after seing the show. This stage production has improved on the film and competes with Jerry Springer the Opera for side-splitting humour!
Joe McNeilly, Gloucestershire

I saw it in previews a couple of weeks ago - just the funniest and best produced musical I have ever seen. How could Richard Dreyfuss ever have thought he could do it? Nathan Lane is just a total star. Definitely not for the easily offended. The inclusion of quotes from various other Mel Brooks' films should also please his fans.
Rebecca Payne, Buckinghamshire

I saw one of the preview shows a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Having not seen the original film, I was not too sure what to expect, but Nathan Lane was superb and stole the show. I cannot imagine anyone else in that role now. Lee Evans performed to his usual high standard and the supporting cast was excellent. I found myself still smiling long after I had left the theatre - congratulations to everyone on a great show.
Laura, London

Lane was superb, like a speedy David Jason. And I really cannot imagine enjoying it anywhere near as much without him in it. I was laughing out loud throughout the entire show and was blown away by the inventive scenery, lighting and fantastic costumes. An absolute must to see.
Brian, Haywards Heath




SEE ALSO:
West End goes wild for Producers
10 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
Tony Awards 2001: The winners
07 May 01 |  Entertainment
Actor's surprise at Broadway sacking
16 Apr 02 |  Entertainment
Musical makes Broadway history
04 Jun 01 |  Entertainment


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