REVIEW: The Producers, Sunderland Empire, until May 16

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Cory English as Max Bialystock and company. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Cory English as Max Bialystock and company. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

This musical was shocking, outrageous and I loved every minute of it. That is just one way to describe this evening’s performance of The Producers at the Sunderland Empire.

The North East audience was transported, sort of, to New York, 1959, a time when Broadway turned over more musicals than it could count.

The production is adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name. Impoverished by a string of flops, New York producer Max Bialystock recruits downtrodden accountant Leo Bloom to help him pull off Broadway’s greatest scam.

Together, they aim to produce the worst show in history and run away to Rio with millions, but they learn that showbusiness can always find a way to kick you in the teeth.

Featuring a riotous mix of eccentric characters and the all-time classic song Springtime For Hitler, The Producers is the funniest Broadway musical of all time.

The production that graced the Sunderland Empire tonight was scaled-down and slightly less impressive than both film versions, which put the money into the stars rather than the set.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Cory English as Max Bialystock, Jason Manford as Leo Bloom and Tiffany Graves as Ulla. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Cory English as Max Bialystock, Jason Manford as Leo Bloom and Tiffany Graves as Ulla. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

That said, I was completely overwhelmed by the talent of the UK’s top comedians.

The story centres on Leo Bloom a socially-awkward accountant, who is played by stand-up star Jason Manford, and he certainly does impress.

He can act, pull off an American accent, can certainly sing and dance – sort of – the latter being the weakest of his talents.

But who cares? When you have a voice like he does you can let the dancing slide.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Jason Manford as Leo Bloom. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Jason Manford as Leo Bloom. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

I was very surprised to learn the comedian has had a very successful opera career, performing with greats such as Alfie Boe and a well-received run in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Other big names were Phill Jupitus and West End legend David Bedella, who I had the privilege of seeing in Rocky Horror Picture Show a few years ago.

Away from the big names, Tiffany Graves played a stunning Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson Bloom, and yes, that is the character’s real name.

Not only was she eye-candy, she was certainly a true, classic leading lady. Her vocals were mesmerising and I’d be going back just to see ‘Ulla dance again’.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Springtime For Hitler. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

COMEDY HIT ... The Producers is at the Sunderland Empire. Springtime For Hitler. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

The only real criticism, for me, was the set. When people come to see a touring show at the Sunderland Empire you expect the whole package. At the risk of sounding like Simon Cowell, the set was very under-whelming and looked like it had been cobbled together from the remains of a high school show.

Although the 10-minute production of Springtime for Hitler (yes that really does happen) was an absolute hilarity, it was a shame the mirror, that was in the film, didn’t make an appearance.

All that said, I hate criticising shows because I know how much hard work and energy goes into putting on a production, especially with lead characters who may be less experienced than others.

The star of the show was, of course, Cory English, who played Max Bialystock, and what a job he did.

English held the story together and was a comedic delight. He mirrored the performance of Nathan Lane, who played the same role in the 2005 remake of the film.

But he managed to make the character his own with a unique vocal twist and was an absolute joy to watch. His caricature did not dip, with English making sure his energy was at a constant high throughout.

The production was rib-ticklingly hilarious and I would recommend anyone to see it.

The Producers runs at the Sunderland Empire until Saturday, May 16. You can buy tickets online at the Empire website.