Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lauter und lauter

Friday’s show was all theatre, and wholly professional: a German version of the American musical The Producers. Years ago, I saw the original non-musical movie, which I found hilarious, and more recently the film of the musical which I thought dumbed-down and even distasteful. The stage musical is much better than the film musical but it’s a different shower of sequins to the Mostel/Wilder version. The very special humour of that original has been replaced by a concoction of all that is traditionally, or rather was, an undefined number of years ago, thought of as ‘Broadway’, flung together colourfully, busily, obviously, loudly (oh, so excruciatingly loudly), sometimes funnily, occasionally very funnily, eschewing any attempt at subtlety in what I would call a photofit ‘coach party musical’.
Its too long, too talky in act one, too drawn out in act two, it has several ‘dead’ numbers which should have been cut years ago, and one of the worst routines I’ve ever seen (‘Mach’ es warm’ aka ‘Keep it gay’) on the musical stage. It is also – at the Admiralspalast – far, far, far too loud, but it is impossible to dislike it. It bounces brashly along, doing its thing – sometimes a burlesque of ‘Broadway’, sometimes one of those shows that professes to burlesque in order to imitate – and it bounces you along with it.
All this brash bouncing was thoroughly aided by a decidedly well-chosen cast, headed by the ebullient Cornelius Obonya as Zero Mostel. It’s a superb piece of casting. He can sing, he can dance and he can pratfall, he is enormously Jewishly-funny, and he captures the admittedly not very three-dimensional character of producer Bialystock to the tee. I can’t imagine anyone playing the part, as here written, better. He actually pushed my Mostel memories out the back of my head for two hours, something I didn’t think was possible.

Andreas Bieber in the overwritten-up role of Bloom has a harder job and although he, too, sings, dances and acts vigorously and capably, he can’t start to exorcise Gene Wilder, nor to shine with the special originality shown by Herbert Steinböck as the crazed Nazi author, Franz. Franz’s rooftop paean to Adolf Elizabeth Hitler, with inspired pigeon accompaniment, was to me the best moment of the evening, and I desperately wanted it to be he who went on the play the role of Hitler in the show within the show. Alas (and I say no more), it wasn’t.

The stock Swedish sexbomb (the show’s only female) was played to perfection by Bettina Mönch, whose best attribute (even including her legs) was that she seemed to be the only person on stage not shouting. And was all the funnier for it.
The production numbers are a bundle of glittering ‘Broadway’ clichés and, much to my surprise, my favourite was the ‘ballet’ of Little Old Ladies with Zimmer-frames (and the Parcae!) which I had found so repulsive in the movie. Here it was athletic and witty and not at all offensive. None of which could be said for ‘Keep it gay’.

So, all in all, a long, loud, colourful, lively evening. If they have coach parties in Germany, I’m sure it will be a hit. Slightly deaf coach parties for preference.

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