In Brooks’ Broadway send-up, Summer Stock Austin’s kids show a knack for laughs
by Robert Faires
“Heil myself!” crows the ersatz Adolf, and under the little black postage-stamp ‘stache glued to his upper lip is the show-biz smirk of an actor reveling in his star turn in the spotlight.
As he giddily throws his arm up in self-salute, down the staircase behind this faux Führer stride showgirls crowned with outsized pretzels and bratwurst, and one who sports on each breast a swastika.
Need it be said? You don’t turn to The Producers for subtlety. No, Mel Brooks pretty much annihilated anything resembling nuance in this send-up of the Broadway stage. In their place he packed every broad stereotype, cheap gag, and over-the-top, beyond-the-pale satirical jab he could to comically savage everyone from the egotistical directors of the Great White Way to a certain tin-pot tyrant of the Teutons. What you turn to The Producers for is laughs – big, loud, bottom-of-the-belly laughs drawn from the flamboyance, vanity, desperation for attention, and histrionics of those who live by the boards and die by the boards.
And when you see Summer Stock Austin’s staging of “Springtime for Hitler,” the outrageous signature number from the 1968 film made more outrageous in the 2001 stage musical, that’s what you get. The chorus line of tap-dancing goose-steppers, the showgirls fresh from a Berchtesgaden beer hall, the Busby Berkeley-style twirling human swastika – they provoke guffaws because director-choreographer Ginger Morris (with an assist by guest tap choreographer Scott Thompson) and her young performers serve every inanity with enthusiasm and a flair for the ridiculous. That’s especially true of Tyler Mount, anchoring the number as the beaming, self-satisfied Hitler – or rather, as the character Roger DeBris playing Hitler, for it’s that fabulously swishy director’s drama-queenliness that informs the portrayal of this song ‘n’ dance dictator. Taking his cue from Garland at Carnegie, Mount oozes enough show-bizzy brass and “I love me in this!” narcissism to make his “German Ethel Merman” at once deliriously entertaining and the theatrical catastrophe that it’s intended to be.
Yes this Third Reich romp was conceived to be a total disaster so its producers could shutter it after one show and pocket the millions they’d raised for a run – a scheme that fails as spectacularly as they wanted their Nazi musical to. As those titular producers – Broadway flopmeister Max Bialystock and timorous accountant Leo Bloom – Trevor McGinnis and Zach Green exude a disarming desperation. McGinnis’ Max is in a state of perpetual scramble, flop sweat pasting his hair to the brow that covers his brain, which is feverishly cooking up a new scam every minute. By contrast, Green’s Leo is all but frozen in fear much of the time, his mouth in the wide wail of one who knows he’s about to be caught. As losers, they’re very winning, and they play off the play’s other zanies – Addison Billingsley’s cheerfully bonkers Franz, Aline Mayagoitia’s showstopping Swedish bombshell Ulla, Mount’s DeBris, and Coy Branscum’s even swishier Carmen Ghia – with a comic facility that belies their young years.
Paul Davis’ set may be rickety enough to be a bit distracting, and Benjamin Taylor Ridgeway may not have been able to stretch his costume budget all the way across the cast, but those elements also underscore Summer Stock Austin’s status as a training program, and the proof of its success is in the performances. Where The Producers is concerned, they show a knack for laughs that a comedy old-timer would kill for.