'The Producers,' a Cultural Milestone for Germany

Germans had a "heil" of a time at the Berlin debut of "Springtime for Hitler," a play that observers feared would produce gasps, rather than laughs.

Sixty-four years after the end of World War II, Hitler has returned to the Berlin theater Admiralspalast, where he once had his own booth on the first floor.

This time, however, he's onstage himself, singing "Heil Myself," with hips swinging and eyelashes fluttering in the first German-language version of the Broadway hit "The Producers," which premiered in Berlin Sunday night.

The theater, the first to dare putting a satire about Hitler on the stage in Berlin, is breaking new ground by playing the first production of Mel Brooks' musical.

Brook's musical is based on his 1968 film of the same name. Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his partner, Leo Bloom, come up with a foolproof plan. They want to get rich quick by putting on the biggest flop Broadway has ever seen, so it will close immediately and they can split town with the investors money. They decide on "Springtime for Hitler," written by the fictional Franz Liebkind, a Nazi fan.

Their plot however, does not unfold as planned, because in the end their sure-to-fail musical turns out to become a big hit and all hell breaks loose.

Ahead of last night's premiere, some German critics had been wondering whether it was appropriate to stage a play about Hitler in Berlin, the former capital of Nazi Germany and to laugh or joke about a Nazi-related matter was largely considered taboo in the country where the Holocaust began.

"Can we laugh about Hitler? Should we laugh about Hitler? Must we laugh about Hitler?" asked daily tabloid Bild Zeitung

Well, who said the German sense of humor is not a laughing matter?

It turns out the Berliners laughed, and for most part they loved the play, too.

Today's Berlin papers report that the audience at Friday's opening night for previews responded enthusiastically to the sight of a step-dancing Hitler clad in glittering medals, pirouetting tank commanders and tap-dancing SS storm troopers singing lines like "Don't be stupid, Be a smarty, Come and join the Nazi Party" or an eyelash fluttering fuhrer singing "Make a great big smile, Everyone, Sieg Heil."

The production had to make some minor adjustments to the U.S. version to comply with German law, which forbids displaying Nazi symbols, such as the swastika, in public.

So instead they were depicted as giant pretzels displayed on the red banners outside the venue and people were handed red flags with pretzels and sausages when they entered the theater.

People cheered when the gay Hitler sauntered on stage singing "Heil Myself, Raise your hand, There's no greater dictator in the land." And when goose-stepping Nazis and Hitler were singing such lines as "Raise your beer! Every hotsy-totsy Nazi come and cheer!" the audience just applauded rapturously, reviewers reported.

Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, "I had seen it in New York before and it's a wonderful musical. I'm happy we have it here in Berlin now. It's not going to hurt anybody; it's a great satire, very very funny."

The audience seemed to agree. Those present obviously thoroughly enjoyed the evening and gave the play a standing ovation.

Mel Brooks, who did not attend the premiere last night, told The Associated Press in an interview, "I'm going to try to sneak over at some point."

Asked whether he thought there would be a problem, he said, "Older people in the audience may quarrel with the whole idea of having fun with what they think is the most serious part of their lives. But for people between the ages of 35 or 40, I don't think there's a problem at all. ...They're hip, they're bright and Berlin has always been a great theater town. They've always broken ground."

Asked whether he had ever imagined it would be staged in Berlin, he replied, "I never thought a German would ever see it."