Day 6 – A Song from a Musical
As a kid who did a lot of theater in both high school and college, I have a healthy portion of sentiment reserved for the musical. And why not—the musical was generally the most fun to perform out of the shows we did, and netted in a larger crowd than the usual theater junkies, making it an even more communal and enjoyable experience. Some musicals get a free pass simply for nostalgia’s sake (even Paint Your Wagon…), but today’s entry is from a bar-none outstanding show, that only the most curmudgeon-y of audience members and bloggers could dislike.
The Producers – “Springtime for Hitler”
Prior to its rebirth as a stage production in 2001, The Producers was a Mel Brooks comedy from 1968 that, while apparently significant enough to make an AFI list and be inducted into the Library of Congress, was not especially well-remembered by many except for Roger Ebert, or at least not as well as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. All of that changed, however, when Brooks turned his first directorial production into a Broadway musical, delighting audiences and winning a record-breaking 12 Tonys (for what it’s worth). I would argue that The Producers the musical will live longer than its film counterpart, though I suspect it’s a generational thing.
Regardless of whether it’s on the stage or in the theaters, the crux of the movie is the designed-to-fail play that will (in theory) catapult Max Bialystok and Leo Bloom into fortune: Springtime for Hitler. Both versions feature a rendition of the song, with the play version seguing into another song before coming back home. I personally prefer the play version (and we can plumb even further depths of the meta trench, if we factor in the movie adaptation of the play), but either version is basically a bad-taste-a-thon of The Broadway Melody-era showtune tropes, a number that props one of the most evil men ever on a pedestal, fits him with a dunce cap, and invites the audience to laugh, clown, laugh. And I think it’s bloody hilarious.
If nothing else, “Springtime for Hitler” is an absolute earworm of a song, with instantly-catchy melodies. Brooks has shown a knack for riffing on Broadway pastiches for a while now—remember “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles?—but nowhere is he better than in the show’s title number, with a great, sunny demeanor cribbed from an infinite number of corny musicals. “Springtime” goes from straight Broadway, to jazzy, to a surreal faux-“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and it’s a hell of a trip the whole way. Small wonder it got so much acclaim.
Lyrically, “Springtime for Hitler” knocks it out of the park, with lines like, “We’re marching to a faster pace/Look out, here comes the master race,” and, “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party.” The extended number in the Broadway version, “Heil Myself,” is pretty damn funny as well: “Heil myself, heil to me/I’m the Kraut who’s out to change our history.” Using the word “clever” to describe song lyrics can be a double-edge sword; “clever” can just as often indicate smirking, “ironic” words and messages, e.g. just about anything from Panic at the Disco. “Springtime for Hitler,” along with the rest of The Producers’ book, is the right kind of clever: words that are not only funny, but funny because they’re the only ones that will work, making them doubly-effective (Gilbert and Sullivan achieve a similar effect).
I will admit, I do have a soft spot for this song, and the whole show. I was in a production of The Producers during my junior year of college (where I played Carmen Ghia. Oh hell yes), and was at a particularly good-enough spot in my life to look back on the production with fond, rose-colored glasses. Still, even if I am incredibly biased towards this number because of personal experience, I feel confident in saying that “Springtime for Hitler” is a damn good tune, and one that makes me smile, even in dire times.