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A Note from the Production Team

Nazi Germany was not funny.  Racism, sexism, homophobia: not funny.  Mel Brooks was one of the first Jewish entertainers to dare to make fun of Nazi Germany with the 1967 film, The Producers.  As a WWII veteran and a victim of antisemitism, Brooks was certainly not glorifying Hitler. Rather, he used humor to expose the absurdity of the Third Reich. Today, “Nazi Humor” is mainstream.  From Seinfield’s soup Nazi to Larry David’s Survivor episode in Curb your Enthusiasm (an hour well spent), American popular culture has normalized spoofing all things Nazi. But Mel Brooks literally set the stage in The Producers with Springtime for Hitler – a cheerful and tasteless play within a play that mocks one of histories’ most brutal dictators.  The film was met with mixed reviews (although it won an academy award for best screenplay) as viewers grappled with understanding where to draw the line with humor and satire.  After developing a cult following, The Producers was turned into a Broadway musical in 2001 winning 12 Tony Awards, an all-time record.

Flagstaff Arts Music and Entertainment (FAME) is a new theater company that picks edgy and provocative plays to encourage Flagstaff teens to explore contemporary issues through art.  The cast helps choose the shows and the production team uses the script to talk about difficult topics. The Producers is all about stereotypes.  Every character is a stereotype. The Jewish producers, Max and Leo, try to make money by creating a Broadway flop, ripping off old ladies and cheating the IRS, playing into our worst stereotypes about Jews and money. Yet we cheer them on as their friendship develops and they fail at failing. By raising money for a show that flops, they plan to run away to Rio, cooking the books and scamming the IRS.  With “Spring Time for Hitler”, Max and Leo find a play that is sure to offend everyone.  As we laugh at the funny lines (e.g., “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party”, “The Fuhrer is causing a furor”), underneath the humor is a statement about the dangers of nationalism. The little old ladies, whom Max swindles, are desperate, but watching them keep a beat with their walkers is charming and hilarious. Ulla, the Swedish actress with a ridiculous accent, exudes sexuality, portrayed as essential to succeed on Broadway in the 1960’s.  Her role evokes the current “me too” – a connection that did not escape the teenagers in FAME who grappled with her character being sexist. In Franz, we have an adorable Nazi who wrote “Springtime for Hitler” as a love letter to Hitler and his wife Eva. Who knew Nazi followers could be adorable?  The catchy tune and funny dance steps in “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” ridicule those who blindly follow unethical leaders.

Rehearsals were sometimes uncomfortable.  Learning to goose step, making swastikas and shouting “Heil Hitler” made the cast think about what they were doing and why. Perhaps one of our biggest challenges was working with the caricatures of homosexuals in “Keep it Gay”.  Roger and Carmen are funny because they take themselves too seriously, not because they are gay.  In The Producers, the line between humorous and offensive is murky. For FAME, we sought to navigate it openly and deliberately, to understand and express how satire can diffuse bigotry, not perpetuate it.

Thank you for attending our show and reading our production note.  Today we want you to leave the theater exhausted from laughing so hard.  Tomorrow we want you to reflect on what this play means and how humor makes us re-evaluate our biases and stereotypes.

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