Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Royal Exchange, Manchester
30 November 2018 to 26 January 2019
Three hours of the best worst possible taste in town . . .
A riot of comedy, song, dancing and inventive design that never lets up. What more do you want?
Well perhaps dancing pigeons - on a stick? A chorus line of zimmer frame grannies? Or the show-stopping construct of a giant swastika? If easily offended, then there’s something for every snowflake here.
Mel Brooks made a hit movie comedy out of his paean to Broadway back in 1967, then went one better and turned it into a musical 30 years later. Cue the added homage to Buzby Berkeley’s rotating choreography, a challenge taken up here by director Raz Shaw and choreographer Alistair David.
Using characters he’d met in New York theatreland Brooks imagined a pair of plotting producers staging a show so awful that its rapid demise would ensure they could take the backers’ millions and run. Springtime for Hitler, a musical theatre apology for the Third Reich, dreamed up by a demented former Nazi, just couldn’t go wrong . . .
It’s now such a knowing show-within-a-show, and so well-known, that the gags come telegraphed for many, but lose none of their potency in a cracking performance.
Julius D’Silva and Stuart Neal are perfect casting in the title roles, the latter channelling a lot of the look of Matthew Broderick, who played Leo Bloom in the film musical. If they can both maintain such manic energy for an eight-week run then extra credit.
The added joy of the song-driven version of the show is that incidental characters get their own moments in the spotlight. Dale Meeks is psychotic stormtrooper Franz; Charles Brunton the cartoonly-camp Roger de Bris (the role taken by Peter Kay when the show first appeared in Manchester 11 years ago); and Emily-Mae is statuesque Swedish secretary Ulla, seemingly able to high kick as far as the Exchange’s first circle!
The hidden strength of the all-singing, all-dancing ensemble of 11 is that several of them are on standby as understudies.
What a shame this show misses out on a clutch of Manchester Theatre Awards!
Meantime enjoy Mel Brooks’ manic musical as a political corrective, or just a riotous night at the theatre. Either way just get there.
Reviewer: David Upton