This is how you take power away from white supremacists:
Mock them. Mercilessly.
You see it with the hate-spewing Chris Cantwell in that devastating Vice News Tonight video about the deadly alt-right rally in Charlottesville. He puffed out his chest and proudly displayed his cache of guns for the cameras. Then, when he heard there was a warrant out for his arrest, he posted online a video of himself sobbing because, well, he was scared. The internet went bonkers with its mockery.
And you see it in Mel Brooks’ musical, “The Producers,” currently getting an impressive staging by Arizona Onstage Productions.
Brooks takes every opportunity to make Hitler and his Nazis look foolish and clueless. Oh, it felt good to laugh at that during the Aug. 19 opening.
The story is vintage Brooks: Based on his 1967 movie of the same name, it is about a pair of producers who set out to stage the worst play ever made in order to pocket the investors’ money and leave the country. They find their script: “Springtime for Hitler,” and hire a director and actors who are sure to make it even worse. Of course, it is a runaway hit, and they are in trouble.
This is a massive undertaking — 27 cast members, more than 500 costume pieces, 150 or so props. AOP is a small company, but founder Kevin Johnson loves to think big.
There are so many choice moments in this production.
Such as …
We will go to any lengths to see Matthew Holter on stage. He took on the role of Leo Bloom, the bundle-of-nerves accountant with I-wanna-be-a-producer dreams. The scheming Max Bialystock convinces Leo to join him as a producer and help defraud investors and the IRS. Holter nailed the nuances of the character, giving a performance that had shadings that Matthew Broderick did not come close to in his Broadway performance of the play. Plus, Holter has a voice that demands you listen to it.
But Holter wasn’t the only one to stand out: Dennis Tamblyn as the unscrupulous Max showed a pristine comic timing to go with his riveting voice; Steve McKee does some of his best work as Roger De Bris, the very gay director tapped to direct “Springtime”; Jim Klingenfus brought just the right amount of density and senseless rage to his portrayal of Franz, the Hitler-loving playwright; Liz Cracchiolo’s Ulla, the sexpot who revs up both Max and Leo’s engines, conveyed the sultriness and innocence of the character with complete honesty; Jacob Brown received applause almost every time he left the stage, and he deserved it: His Carmen Ghia, Roger De Bris’ assistant/lover/biggest fan, was so precise and magnetic and funny that the audience fell in love with him.
The large ensemble of actors backing up the principals had multiple parts, did lots of dancing and singing, and underscored that Tucson bursts with talent.
There is something joyous about tap dancing — and the idea of Nazi soldiers tapping as “Come on Germans, go into your dance” is sung seems so right.
There are so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Brooks twists the knife.
Choreographers Karrie France and Carrie Silverman infused the dance with humor and grace, and this young cast took their visions and did them proud. Let’s hope there are other plays in Tucson that find a need for talented dancers — we really want to see more of these young hoofers.
Costume designer Shana Nunez used innovation, expertise, wit and a good team to come up with costumes that define the characters, tell the story, and make the audience laugh very hard.
We loved them all, from the sparkly sequin gown with the image of the Chrysler building on it worn by Roger De Bris to the sequin-covered showgirl costumes to the over-the-top headdresses featuring beer mugs and pretzels and, especially to Ulla’s outrageous “Springtime for Hitler” costume with swastikas covering her breasts.
We were in awe of them all.
Who knows what possessed Annette Hillman to take on this behemoth, but we are happy she did. She slipped in so many little elements to underscore the humor and keep the pace moving, and she pulled out performances that were informed and heartfelt.
Oh sure, there were opening-night glitches with the lighting and scenery, but they could not take away from a show that made such a delicious mockery of Hitler and which kept the audience laughing and engrossed. Good timing for a show like this — it robs the Hitler lovers of any dignity and makes them the butt of continuous jokes. And that is how it should be.