* Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan * Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks * Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman * Starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick * St. James Theatre, New York City.

Yes, it’s “Springtime for Hitler,” thanks to that Broadway baby, Mel Brooks. We think of Brooks primarily as the maker of over-the-top comic films, most notably *Blazing Saddles* and *Young Frankenstein*. But before he went Hollywood, Brooks parlayed his early success as a TV sketch-writer into a brief period of writing Broadway shows in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. And he poured his love and inside knowledge of Broadway’s sleazy glamour into his very first movie, *The Producers*, in 1968.

In the movie, Zero Mostel played the veteran impresario Max Bialystock who teamed up with neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (played by Gene Wilder) in a scheme to make millions by producing a big Broadway flop. These days, when Broadway is scrambling to turn any hit movie into a musical, banking on pre-sold material to guarantee a return on the millions it takes to put on a show, *The Producers* seems perfectly suited for the treatment. The question might be: what took them so long? The answer to that would probably be: waiting for a star who could fill Zero Mostel’s hilarious, gigantic, shticky shoes.

That star, of course, is Nathan Lane. It’s been a long time since Broadway has spawned a performer with comic, dramatic, and musical chops who’s earned enough of a following from movies and TV to carry a big commercial musical. It’s hard to think of anyone else who could bring such freshness to Mel Brooks’ borscht-belt shtick. Max Bialystock is a cartoonish roly-poly middle-aged vulgarian who gets the dough to mount his crummy shows (like *The Breaking Wind* and a musical based on *Hamlet* called *Funny Boy*) by porking rich little old ladies, whom he distinguishes by nicknames such as “Hold-me Touch-me” and “Yank-me Spank-Me.” And Lane is more than matched by Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. We knew Broderick could do nerdy neurotic in his sleep, but he turns out to be a beguiling hoofer, whose dancing is one of the show’s deepest pleasures.

To direct the worst show ever, Max goes looking for the worst director ever, and finds him in Roger Debris (Gary Beach), who advises him that the only way to make a World War II musical tolerable is to “Keep It Gay.” Cross-dressing Debris and his staff, including his swishy “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), provide a veritable catalogue of campy gay stereotypes. If you’re the kind of person -- like me -- who has difficulty ignoring the fact that a straight audience is roaring at old-fashioned cliches of ditsy, mincing queens, you may find *The Producers* hard to enjoy at times. Everybody else seems to love it.

Susan Stroman, the hyper-kinetic director-choreographer behind the current Broadway hits *Contact* and *The Music Man*, is at her wizardly best here, keeping the stage whirling and alive. Her dance number for a chorus of little old ladies with walkers is an instant classic, and of course she goes to town with *Springtime for Hitler*, the staggeringly tasteless show that Bialystock and Bloom pick as their golden turkey. From the Fuhrer perched on the edge of the stage like Judy Garland at the Plaza to a *Chorus Line* homage with storm troopers high-stepping in swastika formation, it’s a succinct survey of Broadway kitsch.

The Advocate, June 19, 2001

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