U.S. comedian and director Mel Brooks has never been one to shy away from potential controversy in his pursuit of irreverent humor.
However, the man who rewrote the History of the World to include a musical version of the Spanish Inquisition and made small town racism in the American Wild West laugh-out-loud funny is now preparing to take on his toughest audience with material that strikes at its very marrow. Brooks wants to get the Germans to laugh at Hitler.
A German theatre company is interested in hosting Brooks’ successful Broadway musical “The Producers,” a story of two New York con men who deliberately open the most distasteful musical ever in a bid to swindle investors, which contains a show-stopping second act entitled “Springtime for Hitler” complete with a chorus line of goose-stepping Nazis.
German delegation invited
Brooks (picture, center) has invited a "representative sample of Germans" -- or as the 77-year-old Brooklyn-born Jewish comedian put it unrepentantly, "Twenty-five krauts with their helmets on" -- to vet the production at the St. James Theater on Broadway, which is once again starring the original leading men Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.
"(The delegation) will decide whether or not this is just too unspeakably rude for the Germans," said Brooks at a press conference on Monday to announce the transfer of the Broadway show to London’s West End. "We’ll see if it works out - if they are upset, or if they are young enough to roll with the punches and make fun of the Nazi regime. If they like it, and say 'this will go down nicely', then we'll do it."
Older people may have a problem with content
Brooks conceded that there may be some who could cause problems with plans to stage the musical in Germany. “Anyone over 60 may have an ax to grind.”
“It's not a matter of taste,” he added. “It's a matter of the show closing if they don't like it -- or of me being shot in the head by a sniper's rifle.” But ultimately, he said, the idea was only to provide a night of entertainment. "We want to get people laughing; we don't want to offend anybody."
"Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good at rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance."
Making Hitler a figure of fun
Co-writer Tom Meehan said, "Mel is a little man from Brooklyn who has no power except to ridicule. He takes on Hitler, and makes him a figure of fun. There is something charmed about Mel. If anybody else did that, they would get themselves killed."
The Tony Award-winning director developed the musical from the original screenplay of his 1968 film of the same name which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Brooks launched the stage version in 2001. He said that he had taken heart from the apparent success of the movie in Germany. "Germans seem to like the film, but they're young. They're kids, they're smart," he said.
The West End production of the show is set to open in November and will star British actor and comedian Lee Evans and American actor Richard Dreyfuss.