Dour is the theatregoer who can resist chuckling more or less continuously at the proceedings of Mel Brooks’ characters as they mount a grotesque musical with the sole object of producing what the current generation would term “an epic fail”. Its title says it all: Springtime for Hitler…
With an appalling director and a script guaranteed to cause universal and comprehensive offence, a seasoned producer past his best (Max, impersonated by Alan Committie) and a fledgling producer yet to test his mettle (Leo, played by Richard White) embark on this unlikely venture punctuated by the remark, “Yes, you CAN!” – which is frequent, given the extravagance of their ambitions. As a partnership they could hardly be less suited: Max is a devious, coarse-grained extrovert while the inhibited accountant Leo aspires to be both a pillar of rectitude and a successful Broadway producer. As these are mutually exclusive, he is predictably conflicted whenever his business associate makes louche suggestions.
That is a robust source of comedy, and Pitcher’s astute casting is spot-on, since Committie and White embrace their respective roles with zestful authority. Caricature reigns not only in the leads, but in all the secondary personae as well – the violently Teutonic Franz Liebkind, the sexy Swede Ulla, the outrageously camp Roger DeBris and his significant other, Carmen Ghia…and so it goes on. Portrayals go a wrinkle deep, and verisimilitude is the last thing this romp has on its airy mind. The audience simply accepts the need for suspended credulity and enjoys the ride, which is vastly entertaining.
Among the cameo gems, Terence Bridgett’s Roger and Schoeman Smit’s Liebkind stand out for their outré excellence; the contrast between the former’s glamour-gowns and the latter’s quaint lederhosen add appreciably to the piquancy of the spectacle. Earl Gregory, as the obsequious Carmen, brings his usual panache to the part. Raquel Munn has the perfect looks for her role as the toothsome Scandinavian Ulla, injecting a dash of insincere naivety into her lines.
Michael Mitchell’s set works with sleek efficiency to ring the changes from one area of action to the next, with just one minor, deliberate glitch to remind one that this is all a staged fantasy. Duane Alexander’s energetic choreography is skillfully adapted to a small space and captures the moves of the period (mid-to-late 20th century).
Mainspring of the need to create a musical abortion is greed, only one of Max’s many failings (he believes that a flop will net him greater profits than a hit), and in addition to this moral flaw, he exhibits an impressive range of unedifying behaviour. Exploiting little old ladies, manipulating people for his own ends, lying with inventive fluency, and compromising what little integrity he has at every turn, combine to make him despicable, but very human; so the warm and fuzzy feelings generated at the end of the show are perhaps less surprising than one might expect…
Polished, well-staged and offering a laugh a minute, this production of The Producers is deeply satisfying fare.