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CULTURE: The rights of spring; Review The Producers Birmingham Hippodrome.

Byline: Alison Jones

*****

The Producers comes to the Hippodrome stage almost buckling under the weight of its own award-winning reputation. With a record number of Tonys and raves from the British theatre industry.

It has even been playing to packed houses in Israel which, given the subject of the musical within a musical, is a testament to how successfully Mel Brooks' humour does travel.

There's a reason why the production took EUR3.5 million in tickets sales in a single day on Broadway, and it wasn't only due to the incomparable Nathan Lane. It is because it is funny. From the script to the songs to the set, everything is milked for comedy material.

If you don't laugh at the sight of a pigeon Heil Hitlering, a zimmer frame chorus line or showgirls dressed in bier steins, bratwurst and pretzels, you may want to check you still have a pulse.

Even one of the stars, Joe Pasquale, was occasionally reduced to fits of giggles. Though some of it may have been staged corpsing, the scene where Cory English disdainfully threw a sheet of newspaper across the stage only to have it land directly in a bin must surely have been an opportune accident, in spite of his ad lib that he did it every night.

English (a genuine American) is a pocket rocket of musical theatricality and knowing humour who commands the stage, in the face of staff competition from some talented support, as Max, the desperate impressario trying to defraud the IRS by staging a flop show.

Helium-voiced Pasquale, as his accountant turned partner-in-crime, Leo, has barely a fraction of the singing talent of most of the rest of the cast and his man-child persona is strangely disturbing in one so tall. But he has a vulnerabilty that gradually proves quite winning and the script not only acknowledges his weaknesses but makes light of them. "I think he actually talks like that," says Max/Cory.

Third-billed Russ Abbot and Alex Giannini both make the most of their roles as the director and writer of Springtime for Hitler. Robin Sebastian minces magnificently as sibilant assistant Carmen Ghia, while Emma-Jayne Appleyard's impressive vocals constantly threaten to break free from the constraints of her character Ulla's comedy Swedish accent.

The script zings with one-liners while the songs are joyfully irreverent as well as show-stoppingly tuneful. "Oedipus won't bomb if he winds up with mom," Russ and Robin belt out as they exhort their producers to "Keep It Gay".

Everything is slickly performed, with a set and costumes that are wonderfully creative and glorious to look at. Dancing girls emerge from filing cabinets and stormtroopers Busby Berkeley their way into Swastika formation.

"Where did we go right?" wails a jail-bound Max at one point. In this production from curtain up to curtain down when the Company tells the audience: "Goodbye..get lost... get out!"

Running Time: Two hours, 55 minutes. Until August 4
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 6, 2007
Words:490
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