Musicals, in the world according to…err…me, were designed by one of God’s least favourite and lower-ranking angels – the kind of celestial joker that probably doesn’t quite grasp the difference between good and evil and thus, unknowingly, inflicts this rudimentary form of torture upon all of mankind, without mankind actually taking the blindest bit of notice. Whats worse is that these malevolent creations have, of late, manifested into cinematic masquerades again, much like they once did in the mid-to-late 1900’s (until an antidote, we’ll call it ‘taste’, was found). Unfortunately, we have seemingly become immune to the antidote and now yearn for more (I see no other reason why singers and dancers in London’s West End have been so fortuitous in getting work these days).
I was recently forced into a uncompromising situation that required me to see The Producers, the Mel Brooks (cough, splutter) classic. Let me assure you, however, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter because:
a) The ticket was an Xmas gift
b) It was a gift from my significant other
c) My significant other likes musicals
So how was it? Well, before you start emailing me with threatening opinions about how great musicals really are or how the world is a better place with music and dance, take a minute to cast your minds back a few months to AC Milan’s performance (bear with me now) in the Champions League football Final last year. It was a legendary, nay, near-mythical exhibition of footballing legendry. The first half was a poignant paradigm of the finely-crafted art of entertainment, perfectly played out on a brightly-lit stage by an all-star cast. Astonishingly, however, the second half was, as you might well remember, just a load of old pigswill. Unless of course, you were a Liverpool fan.
Now, it might not’ve been ruined by a Polish bloke called Jerzy but Susan Stroman’s The Producers gets as near to AC Milan’s diary of disaster as one film can get without the intervention of Steve Gerrard. All comparisons about fancy footwork aside, this toe-tapping singalong is as clich? as ‘a game of two halves’ can be. For those simpletons amongst you, first half – good, second half – bad.
It all begins brightly enough with the Laurel and Hardy duo of Max Bialystock, a Broadway has-been of Jason Donovan proportions, and Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant with a fear of losing his blankie (in my day it was called a Kiki – which is to say, last week). They meet one fateful day and hatch a dodgy plan to siphon $2m from a legion of gullible old ladies (isn’t there something decidedly wrong about stealing from old ladies?) by staging the biggest flop in showbiz history.
The first hour is filled with quick quips (high hat, ba-dum-ccchhh), fancy frollicking and an entire jamborees-worth of camp. Nathan Lane (who starred in the same role in the West End version) is no stranger to this sort of role since appearing in The Birdcage and neither is his co-star, baby-faced Ferris Bueller (who is 44 this year – yeh, 44!), who also starred in the stage version in his home town of NY, NY. Both play their roles with adequate aplomb, yet the ubiquitous Will Ferrell (playing a German Nazi playwrite) and the multifarious Uma Thurman are the real stealers of the show. Oddly enough, Uma plays an all-dancing, all-prancing, all-singing, never-minging, leggy Swede called Ulla. The words ‘born’ and ‘for the role’ immediately spring to mind. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen Anna Nicole Smith tackle the role – it would have thrown up a few more convulsions of laughter.
For Susan Stroman this is an honorable first stab at movie directorship considering her previous work has been mainly in choreography for such movies as You’ve Got Mail and Centre Stage. The movie’s title, as mentioned above, has always been synonymous with the name Mel Brooks (who is 80 this year – yeh, 80!!). Famous also for Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in tights and Blazing Saddles, Mel has written, directed and adapted (for screenplay) The Producers on various occasions in all it’s various formats. Unfortunately though, the razz doesn’t match up to the matazz this time around and there was an overwhelming itch that wasn’t quite scratched throughout this movie (I knew I should’ve showered first).
Regardless of the show, and I say this as an avid hater of musicals despite the kind gift of a ticket to see said musical, the whole experience was actually pretty top notch. This is by all means thanks to the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road. Leather seats for everyone! Being supine on love couches that are big enough to oblige the very notion of ‘love’ (if one desired to do so in a public place) is a rare and special privilege. If you get the chance to do so, do your worst. To quote that well known thespian and lover of the arts, Chopper Reid, “Cor, this is a bit plush innit mate?” – sums it up nicely. They also had an intermission just long enough to use the Cowpat (I kid you not) hand lotion in the loos and to buy a cocktail at the bar. I recommend the Moscow Mule.
Otherwise 6 out of 10 for The Producers, and 10 out 10 for The Electric.