Mel Brooks’ classic Broadway show celebrates its 15th anniversary
You’d think there would be no way of making Mel Brooks’ work any more Jewish, but the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre did just that—by translating The Producers, arguably the American filmmaker’s most celebrated work, into mame-loshn. The resulting show, a co-production with the Côte-Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, had its world premiere at the Segal Centre on June 19.
Initially written as a film, The Producers came out in 1967 and, despite the controversy it caused, won an Oscar and became a comedy classic. Almost 35 years later, Brooks re-wrote it as a musical, adding catchy songs, longer scenes and some of the self-referential humour that was a staple of his famous parody movies. The musical conquered Broadway and this year is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
The story centers on an unlikely partnership between Max Bialystock, a slimy has-been Broadway producer, and a neurotic accountant named Leo Bloom, who devise a scheme to make a fortune from a flop show. The action is quick, the humour is sharp, and the musical has admirably lost none of its potential to offend. It is especially shocking to consider that The Producers, the plot of which essentially involves two Jews putting on a pro-Nazi show out of greed for money, was written a mere 20 years after WW2. The show-within-the-show, titled Springtime for Hitler—also the title of the wonderful theme song—is meant to be in the worst possible taste, so how do you mock poor taste without succumbing to it? The answer is, maybe you shouldn’t shy away from it—or, as Brooks himself once put it, you should “[rise] below vulgarity.”
The show is fully orchestrated and features a large cast of professional and nonprofessional performers alike, some of them actual Yiddish-speakers and others just apt mimics. Sam Stein and Mikey Samra star in the lead roles, with Alisha Ruiss as an exuberant Swedish blonde and Jonathan Patterson—also the show’s choreographer—often stealing the spotlight as Roger De Bris, a fictional theatre director that may be the worst to have ever lived, but is surely not the least memorable.
The Producers runs until July 10 at the Segal Centre. Tickets start at $45. Most of the show is in Yiddish, with English and French supertitles.