HOW TO perpetrate a theatrical get-rich-quick scheme: Find the worst play ever written; hire the worst director and worst actors in town; raise $2 million, officially to ‘stage the show’, but in reality for the producers to pocket; see the play close after opening night; then take the money and run for Brazil.
Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom believe this is a fail-safe plan to make them very rich men. They are certain Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden written by Franz Liebkind, a Nazi hiding out in New York, cannot but fail to insult Jews, the gay community, and anybody who isn’t a Nazi or a Homophobe.
There is one flaw though, Roger De Bris may be the worst director in town, but his over the top style unwittingly turns Springtime into a massive hit, and that is where Bialystock and Bloom’s problems start.
This is The Producers, the classic 1968 film musical written by the great Mel Brooks, and adapted for theatre by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with lyrics and music also composed by Brooks.
The Galway Patrician Musical Society is staging The Producers in the Town Hall Theatre from Tuesday March 4 to Saturday 8 at 8pm. Among the cast will be Declan Gardner, who plays Carmen Ghia, and Nicky Lawless, who plays Leo Bloom.
“I’ve always been a fan of Mel Brooks,” declares Nicky during our Monday afternoon interview. “He is one of the few people who could have done a show like this and get away with it. It was so far out there, and made only 23 years after World War II - but that’s the point of it. It was to take the sting out of the Nazis. If something that horrific can be laughed at, it undermines its power.”
I want to be a producer
Nicky characterises the hapless Leo Bloom as an ideas man, just not a very confident one. “He’s very straight-laced and not very assertive,” Nicky says. “He looks well dressed, but wears cheap clothes. He doesn’t like his job, his boss treats him poorly. He looks around at his work colleagues and sees they’re all in the same boat.”
However his cunning plan to make a quick buck in the form of a flop musical gives Leo something in to believe in, and perhaps a way to believe in himself.
“Leo comes across the idea by accident and Max encourages him. Everything after is Max’s doing, but Leo really believes in the idea as he has nothing else going for him in life. He knows Max is a theatrical has-been who now only makes flops, but he goes along for the ride once it starts, even when he doubts it can all work and doesn’t believe Max when he says ‘It’ll be fine!’.”
Leo’s nervous disposition is summed up in his need to constantly hug and hold into his security blanket.
“The blanket is a big part of his character,” says Nicky. “Without it he is a nervous wreck. He is actually a little crazy and full of irrational fears, but as the show progresses he becomes more confident, but he will never fully shake those self-doubts.”
Keep it gay
Carmen Ghia is the long suffering ‘common law assistant’ of the talentless theatre director Roger De Bris, whom he is also hopelessly infatuated with. Indeed their relationship could be described as a ‘one way labour of love’.
“Carmen is totally in love with Roger, but I don’t think it is fully reciprocated,” says Declan. “Carmen sees Roger as a life long partner, but Roger sees him as just an assistant. We get to see that early on when Carmen has to take phone calls from men Roger has met. Carmen also takes a remarkable shine to Leo.
“Carmen tries to keep Roger on the right path and keep him grounded, but Roger is a loose cannon. The two also share their house with the whole production team for Springtime for Hitler, all of whom seem to be gay as well.”
Although Roger and Carmen are comic stereotypes, they do provide a window into gay relationships of the period and the roles each person felt they needed to step into.
“Carmen would be a more stereotypically screaming queen, he’s always shocked and appalled in a high pitched manner, and he’s extremely feminine,” says Declan. “He also tends to slap people in a certain way on certain areas of their body throughout the show.
“By contrast, Roger passes through the theatre world as straight. He has a very manly stance, is very butch, and is what gay men would call ‘a bear’. Their relationship mirrors that of a heterosexual one - the male and the female - except it’s between two men.”
The Führer is causing a furore!
The Producers most famous number is arguably ‘Springtime For Hitler’ (altogether now: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Goose-step’s the new step today.” )
“It will be quite a spectacle,” says Declan, “and when Tim Landers comes on as Hitler, you’re going to see Hitler as a flaming homosexual, and that’s what makes the song!”
“It’s a huge number,” says Nicky, “but as well known as the song and The Producers is, not everyone knows it and part of the fun for the cast will be people in the audience wondering ‘What am I watching?’ It does have shock value.”
Being a satire, and a Mel Brooks one at that, ultimately The Producers delights in slagging off every possible type of person.
“Nobody is safe,” says Nicky. “Nazis, gays, the elderly, Irish cops, convicts; race, age, and sex - all are made fun of. The character of Ulla is Swedish and she gets the piss taken out of her for her accent. It has a go at the elderly - there is a routine with grannies dancing with their zimmer frames, which is quite astounding.”
“There is no scene that is not funny,” says Declan, “which is unusual in a musical and hard to do, but each character in The Producers is a comedian, and all of us are there to make the audience laugh.”
Peter Kennedy will direct The Producers and play Max Bialystock. The cast also includes former Rose of Tralee Roisin Egenton (Ulla ), Declan Kelly (Franz ), Tim Landers (Roger and Hitler ). John Roe and Martha O’Toole are the musical director and chorus mistress.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie