Swans Commentary » swans.com February 12, 2007  



"The Producers" In Denmark


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - February 12, 2007)   Adolph Hitler is alive and well and strutting in Copenhagen where Mel Brooks's Tony-award winning musical "The Producers" is packing them into the Ny Teater and Danes are having something of a catharsis watching the ridicule of loutish Nazis who once occupied their land and brought untold misery to its people. For in Denmark, "The Producers" is not simply a rowdy, tuneful, over-the-top Broadway musical but an uproarious exercise in revenge.

Franz Liebkind (played by Ole Thestrup), the helmeted, lederhosened, fuehrer-worshipping kraut author of "Springtime For Hitler" (which producer Max Bialystock hopes will be the worst play ever placed on the boards) is virtually the star of the show. In explosive volleys of urine-inducing laughter, the Danes's reaction to him is clearly tinged with a sense of riotous mockery; a laughter steeped in eradicable memories of World War II cruelties, as if the audience responding to the reincarnation of Nazi occupation were saying, "Take that!" Proving not only that revenge is sweet but liberating as well. The show's finale in which a gazillion neon-lit swastikas frame a horde of storm-troopers and their statuesque, blonde shotzies goose-stepping to "Springtime For Hitler" feels more like an ancient rite of sacrifice than it does a boisterous Broadway production number. It is appropriately punctuated with blasts from two artillery canons with the Fuehrer himself disappearing behind plumes of smoke.

In New York, the show appeared to be about wisecracks and financial chicanery but in Copenhagen it is more about the incongruous male bonding of an outrageous con-man and an emotionally-suppressed accountant who longs for and achieves a lasting friendship with an improbable soul mate. The show's edge is less sharp but its human undertow far more palpable.

"The Producers" has already earned its place in the annals of Broadway musicals so its luster will not be diluted by pointing out that it doesn't seem to know when to stop and exhibits perhaps too great a fidelity to the Mel Brooks's film from which it sprang. By the time Bialystock has been "outed" as the grand larcenist he is, has had his day in court, is sentenced to a stretch in prison, and then converts his fellow convicts into a crack squad of musical comedy performers for yet another Broadway hit, we have revisited the plot's denouement three times running. The joke is needlessly extended in the number where Bialystock recapitulates everything that bas brought him to this pass that merely produces an unnecessary déjà vu. The real climax is the genuine amity of the chiseling producer and the emotionally-needy accountant; a consummation beautifully effected by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the Broadway production and touchingly signaled by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in the 1968 film.

One misses the sharpness and perfection of Susan Strohman's direction and choreography in the Danish production -- although presumably the dance numbers by Lisa Kent are based on the original. And no actor has yet been able to reproduce the loveable weaselyness that Zero Mostel brought to the role in the original film -- although the Danish cast is perfectly serviceable in every department and, if anything, superior in the feminine pulchritude of its chorus line. But then, this is Denmark where great, hulking blonde amazons assail one on every street corner.

The most striking aspect of the show, as I have said, is that it serves a profound psychological purpose. It is, in a sense, the final nail in the coffin of Nazi occupation and as such, has a powerful effect on the minds and hearts of its Danish audience. It is rare when laughter and retribution can so happily go hand in hand.


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Charles Marowitz on Swans (with bio).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published February 12, 2007