Long before the Farrelly Brothers or American Pie there was Mel Brooks, turning bad taste into a gazillion dollar business. The man who created the farting scene in Blazing Saddles knows that bad smells and gaucherie bloom nowhere more profusely than in the heart of the entertainment industry itself—in the black arts of the producer.
Vancouver’s own most successful hit-maker, Bill Millerd, directs a no-holds-barred Arts Club version of Brooks’ smash musical with Jay Brazeau as Max Bialystock, Broadway’s grossest, most conniving producer, and Josh Epstein as schlemiel accountant Leo Bloom, his partner in artistic crime. With the help of a great supporting cast and chorus, Alison Green’s outrageous costumes and Valerie Easton’s wonderfully cheesy choreography, Millerd and Brooks produce a ridiculously entertaining show that will probably run all summer.
Brooks’ concept is priceless. After flopping with Funny Boy, his musical version of Hamlet, ultra-crass Bialystock schemes with Bloom to produce the world’s worst musical. They’ll cook the books so when it closes after opening night, they’ll get to keep all the money Bialystock has scammed out of his little old lady investors.
So they find the world’s worst script—Springtime for Hitler, a musical celebration of Der Führer, written by an unrepentant singing Nazi (Jackson Davies). And they hire the world’s most flamingly gay director, Roger DeBris (Mark Burgess), who with his even more swish assistant Carmen Ghia (Ron Pederson) and Village People-like crew, mount the world’s campiest and most offensive production. Choruses of high-stepping storm troopers sing and dance on a swastika-bedecked set behind a Hitler who croons, “Heil myself!”
This is not a show for the overly sensitive. Brooks is an equal-opportunity offender. He makes fun of gays, women, Jews, old people, blacks, accountants and Nazis. Oh, and Swedes. Gorgeous, leggy, blonde, over-sexed and heavily accented Ulla (Terra C. MacLeod) comes to work for the producers in the fulfillment of a 1950s adolescent American boy’s fantasy.
Brooks’ upbeat music and very funny lyrics get their fullest workout from Roger and Carmen and friends in their advice to the producers, “Keep It Gay,” and then later in the big production number “Springtime for Hitler.” Burgess and Pederson are both fantastic, as is MacLeod as Ulla performing “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.”
Epstein makes a charming Bloom and the larger-than-life Brazeau is hugely entertaining as always. You’ve gotta love how he throws himself into the song “Betrayed,” summarizing the whole show. Just hope he doesn’t give himself a heart attack.
The opening night performance started with a little too much adrenalin before settling in nicely. Hey, even Mel Brooks needs to be handled with a little bit of subtlety.