Times certainly do change. When Mel Brooks' multiple Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of his satirical 1968 film The Producers opened on Broadway in 2001, it was gobbled up whole by critics who praised it as comic manna from show-business heaven. The slobbering reception had to be sweet vindication for Brooks, a master parodist who won a best screenplay Oscar for the original film, only after watching it tank at the box office amid nearly universal critical outrage.
A scant two decades after the end of World War II, mainstream America still wasn't prepared for the intentionally offensive story of two Jewish swindlers (brilliantly played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) who concoct a plan to bilk a million bucks from investors with a glitzy Broadway show called Springtime for Hitler, a song-and-dance musical celebrating the glorious achievements of a handsome young fuhrer and his hip, hypersexualized Nazi Party.
Flash forward another 50 years and Brooks' once-reviled parody has evolved from cult classic status to actual classic status. Brooks himself transformed it into a hit Broadway musical. That musical was then transformed back into a film, also called The Producers. And somehow out in the real world, while The Producers was making its journey from fringe to center stage, young Nazi-hipsters made a roaring comeback!
Is Springtime for Hitler still funny in the shadow of a surging alt-right and new authoritarianism? In a recent interview with Indie-Wire, Brooks, a WWII vet who wrote for Sid Caesar before creating iconic parodies like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and High Anxiety, doubled down on his long-held belief that, if you can make people laugh at tyrants like Hitler, "then you've won the day."
50th anniversary screening of Mel Brooks' "The Producers," Sunday, June 3rd, at 2 p.m. and Wednesday, June 6th, at 7 p.m. at Malco paradiso.