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Sex, Jews, Broadway keys to comedy’s theatrical success

“‘The best new musical of the decade! Max Bialystock is a theatrical genius!'”

So say the reviews of “Springtime for Hitler,” a play within the play “The Producers,” which has been a success on Broadway since opening in 2001. And it truly is a genius play, written by Mel Brooks, who created the original movie in 1968.

The story centers on Broadway producer Max Bialystock, who goes from being the “King of Broadway” to producing only flops. He teams up with Leo Bloom, an accountant with a secret desire to be a Broadway producer, to produce a guaranteed flop and rake in thousands of dollars. Through finding the worst script, most terrible director and least talented actors, Bialystock and Bloom prepare “Springtime for Hitler,” written by a neo-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind. They are convinced the play will be a flop, but then, that wouldn’t make for a very comedic Broadway production, would it?

And the show truly is a comedic masterpiece, filled with jokes, evil glares and the occasional song lamenting the question, “Where did we go right?”

The current cast includes Richard Kind (Max Bialystock) and Alan Ruck (Leo Bloom), both alums of the hit television comedy “Spin City.” They play their roles with such passion that, although some audiences may see them shadowed by their television personas, they completely adopt the personalities of the conniving Bialystock and the nervous dreamer Bloom, respectively.

Bialystock is a man who knows what he wants and will go for it no matter the possible consequences. Kind understands Bialystock’s every glance, vocal inflection and movement, playing it up so the audience knows exactly what he is feeling.

Bloom is unhappy in his job as accountant and wants a different, more adventurous life. Ruck takes on the whims and habits of a man prone to having an “attack” and he does it so well that you have to laugh as he goes “berserk” and pulls out his little blue blanket because something has upset him.

Angie Schworer plays Ulla Inga Hansen Bensen Yonsen … well, you get the idea. Anyway, Schworer, whose character was born and raised in Sweden, manages to pull off a very amusing and highly exaggerated accent, drawing out the vowels in “Bloooooom” as well as other words that make her character understandably a bit na?ve.

One aspect that seems to overrun the show is the constant Jewish jokes that, despite being slightly offensive, are hilarious all the same. From the inner play’s name, which portrys Hitler as a good guy, to Bialystock’s and Bloom’s comment that “Oh we knew we couldn’t lose, half the audience were Jews!,” Brooks manages to use the Jews for humor, and it works.

The jokes are subtle, but one of the biggest instances in which the play defaces Hitler’s name comes when Liebkind tells Bialystock and Bloom that Hitler’s middle name is Elizabeth. “Not many people know it, but the F?hrer vas descended from a long line of English queens.” Well, who knew Hitler came from such feminine royalty?

In addition to the Jewish jokes, the play is filled with a great deal of sexual innuendo. Most obvious is Bialystock’s habit of wooing older women to give him money for his plays. To fund his newest project, he travels to Little Old Lady Land as he sings, “It’s time for Max/To put his backers on their backs/And thrill them with amazing acts/Those aging nymphomaniacs.”

Yet the humor throughout the play makes it worthwhile, as do the beautiful set designs and costumes. Big signs proclaim Bialystock and Bloom’s newest play, all aglow in lights. And audiences are treated to a strange sight when the dancers in “Springtime for Hitler” walk onstage wearing costumes that include such details as a hat with a huge pretzel on top and a skirt with hanging sausages.

Of course, the play would not be what it is without the music. Bialystock sings of becoming King of Broadway once more and Bloom learns a lesson about never saying “good luck” on opening night. The music is very catchy and draws the audience into the world of the producers with its smart and hilarious lyrics.

Overall, the play is a definite masterpiece, thanks not only to the writing of Brooks, but also because of the actors who pour their hearts into the characters and become them wholeheartedly.

And, as the final song states, “If you like our show tell ev’ryone but … if you think it stinks keep your big mouth shut!”


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