Mel Brooks’ original 1967 satire of theatre-land, The Producers, is now considered an all-time classic comedy film.
But it took another 34 years for an adaptation, also penned by Brooks, to make its own way on to Broadway, where it became a huge hit, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards.
The musical was then also turned into a film in 2005, starring the Broadway version’s original leads, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
Now South Downe Musical Society is tackling the story of fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom, who hatch a plan to scam money by making a deliberate flop.
Together, the two set out to produce the worst musical ever to hit Broadway, with the worst script, the worst director, and the worst cast they can find. And so they ready Springtime For Hitler for what they plan to be its one and only performance, before they flee to Rio with $2m.
Of course, things do not go to plan.
For Sam Townsend playing Leo is a dream role. While he loved the 2005 film, it was Gene Wilder’s turn in the original that he truly fell for.
‘Much as I love the new version,’ he explains, ‘it’s Gene Wilder’s portrayal of that character that really sold me on it, it was the honesty and the passionate desire that he put into it.
‘He totally made that role the one for me. Although back then I wasn’t really into musical theatre, I thought if one day, if I ever did this, that would be the role.’
‘Nathan Lane [as Max] is such a big character, he’s incredible, as a result, although Matthew Broderick does an incredible job as Leo, his portrayal doesn’t shine as much. When I watched the musical version back, having seen the original, that character took on a whole new dimension for me.’
Sam only joined SDMS last year – his first show with them was Carousel. Before that though, he was with CAOS (Chichester Amateur Operatic Society). And it was while with that group that he first came across, Matt Sackman, his future co-star in The Producers.
‘We did Made in Dagenham in Chichester, so we went to see the South Downe version and he was playing the same role I was supposed to play, Eddie. I thought, this guy is good, he knows what he’s doing. So when I saw him at the auditions for The Producers, I told him he was brilliant in that and I was hoping to work with him.
‘We did the audition together and straight away, it felt right. Although we didn’t know each other, we both knew the characters so well we clicked straight away. And since then we’ve become quite good friends, I couldn’t ask for a better co-star.’
Like Sam, Matt had long wanted to appear in The Producers, after also seeing it in the cinema.
‘I absolutely fell in love with it, it’s always been one of my to-do shows for quite some time. I know, that sounds like one of those cliché things to say, but I turned down parts in in two other shows to do this. I was very fortunate to get the lead. To be perfectly honest, I would be happy with any involvement in it.’
And he’s been enjoying bonding with Sam.
‘When we were first in that audition room, we’d never even spoken before. But we’ve spent all of our rehearsal time together, and quite a bit of time outside as well. He’s come over to mine to do some line learning and we’ve met up for a couple of drinks.
‘We’ve got very similar goals as to where we want to take the characters and we really enjoy working with each other.’
While familiarity may have blunted the shock factor of the show, Matt believes it’s still relevant.
‘Even in this day and age, I think it’s still quite controversial and there’s still a lot of sensitivities about Nazis, and there’s like an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t joke about Nazism, but I disagree, if you’re able to laugh at them and at their expense – that was the whole point for Mel Brooks.’
For Sam, the climactic rendition of Springtime For Hitler is his favourite number, even though he’s not in it.
‘It’s really brilliant, it’s such a showstopper. Most of the cast is involved in it one way or another.
‘They’re really, really going for it, there’s lots of brilliant choreography. The lead in that bit is Steve, who’s playing [director] Roger De Bris and he’s just incredible. He absolutely sells it, it’s such a thing to behold. Even though I’m not in it, I’ll always come and see it when they’re rehearsing it.
‘By the end of this we’re going to have a piece of theatre that people will not be able to stop themselves from falling in love with.’
Ferneham Hall, Fareham