WHO better to appear in one of theatre’s funniest shows than a top stand-up comedian? Katy Wheeler speaks to Jason Manford about joining The Producers.
When Jason Manford was offered the role of downtrodden accountant Leo Bloom in The Producers it was one he couldn’t turn down.
“It’s a role that just lends itself to comedians,” said Jason, who is approaching the end of an 18-month tour of his own material, his third UK tour.
Soon after that tour, First World Problems, closes, he’ll be gearing up to deliver Mel Brooks’ one-liners in the musical based on his Academy Award-winning film.
The tour version of The Producers, which has taken Broadway and the West End by storm, arrives in Sunderland next spring.
“I’ve seen The Producers many times and the film is one of my favourites,” said Jason.
“It’s really funny, it’s got some great songs. It’s clever, it’s shocking, it’s edgy, it’s just brilliant, I’m a massive fan of Mel Brooks and I loved the original film with Gene Wilder. I’ve since seen Lee Evans and Peter Kay in the role.”
It tells the story of New York producer Max Bialystock who, impoverished by a string of flops, recruits timid accountant Leo Bloom to help him pull off Broadway’s greatest scam.
Together they aim to produce the worst show ever and run away to Rio with millions, but they learn that showbusiness can always find a way to kick you in the teeth.
Jason and the rest of the cast, who are yet to be announced, will be bringing the show’s rib-tickling music to life, including Springtime for Hitler.
Though this will be Jason’s first musical tour, he’s no stranger to treading the boards having appeared in a critically acclaimed West End role in Sweeney Todd, alongside Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.
Speaking about how his role in The Producers came about, he said: “The West End is a small community and I guess they asked around and found out I was relatively easy to work with.”
It is, of course, stand-up which made Manford’s name.
He shot to stardom in 2007 as team captain on C4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats and since then he has hosted prime time television shows including Sunday Night at the Palladium, BBC1’s A Question of Sport: Super Saturday and The Royal Variety Performance.
He’s also showed off his acting skills in dramas such as Not Like This, Like That, an ITV film based on the life of comedian Tommy Cooper.
“I guess it was always something I was interested in doing,” he said of musical theatre.
“Obviously I love stand-up, but I love doing a variety of things. I did a show with Bruce Forsyth at the Palladium and we were chatting.
“He asked me what I was up to and when I told him I was doing this he made a point that although we can dabble in the world of actors and drama, they can’t do that in our world of stand-up.
“When actors play comics you can always tell it’s pretence. There are certain things you can learn about stand up, but it’s certainly a specific field.”
Jason says he enjoys the freedom of performing live.
“I enjoy performing for a live audience, there’s always something magical about it, anything can happen,” he said.
“It’s an exciting medium and that immediate reaction is special. You just don’t get that with telly, it’s heavily edited and you have things like Ofcom.”
Last week, Jason released a DVD of the First World Problems tour where he encouraged audience participation by inviting them to share their first world problems.
He said: “I’ve absolutely loved this show; I’ve had a great time with the audiences all over the country, they’ve made the show for me. We had some great banter and I loved seeing so many faces in the audience.”
By the time the show finishes its 18-month run next month, Jason will have performed more than 250 dates to over 300,000 fans across the UK.
He says the audience’s interaction in the show helps to keep it fresh,
“I do that for myself as well really, I do that many shows that having audience interaction keeps it interesting,” he explained.
“You don’t want them to get involved to the point of interrupting, but you can have fun with the interaction. It helps to make that night different from the last.”
It’s people who provide Jason with the best comic material.
“Observing and listening to people inspires me,” he said.
“I love listening to people and things they come up with, the best things are said when they’re not even concentrating.”
Jason’s performed in the North East many times as a stand up and he says he’s looking forward to returning in his musical theatre role.
“I love it, the more North you go, the more interactive the audience,” he said.
“By the time you get to Sunderland it’s like you’re in a double act with the crowd, but there’s a warmth to it.
“There’s a rich heritage of comedy in the North East. They respect what you do, but they won’t just put up with anything, you have to be good.”
•The Producers will be at Sunderland Empire from May 11-16. Tickets can be purchased from £10-£37.50 in person from the Box Office on High Street West, Sunderland or from £12.90-£41.40 from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022 and online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.
We’ve teamed up with Universal to give away three Jason Manford Live Tour 2014 First World Problems DVDs worth £19.99. Certificate: 15.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: what is the name of the character Jason will be playing in The Producers?
Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: December 4.