Brooks spoof makes German-language debut

VIENNA — Broadway’s incarnation of “The Producers” has made its way to Austria, and according to creator Mel Brooks, never one to undersell his wares, “Unless they don’t like ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ the show will be there forever!”

But what if local auds don’t take to “Springtime for Hitler” and the show’s nutsy Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind? Unlike in neighboring Germany, which has more publicly come to terms with its past, the subject remains largely taboo throughout the country.

On June 30, the tuner gets its German-language premiere in an open-ended run at Vienna’s historic Etablissement Ronacher. Susan Stroman will re-create her Tony-winning direction and choreography, with Robin Wagner and William Ivey Long again responsible for sets and costumes, respectively. The translation is by Philipp Blom, David Bronner and Michaela Schubert.

Produced by Vereinigte Buhnen Wien, the production will cost approximately E1.9 million ($2.83 million), modest by Broadway standards due to VBW having its own full-time tech crew and orchestra.

Since the 1888 Ronacher is still undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation that has kept its doors closed for the past two years, the formal announcement of the opening came in a Feb. 26 press conference in the Raimiund Theater, introduced by Brooks via video.

Austria, however, has been sensitive to depictions of its past.

When “The Sound of Music” entered the repertory of Vienna’s Volksoper in 2005, audiences gasped and fell quiet when a giant swastika unfurled during the song contest scene.

Stroman is optimistic, however, when hit with the question, “Is Austria ready?”

“It’s a show to offend everyone,” she says. “… We’re counting on the stupidity of the characters, that it’s all satire about these people and their dreams. … People will see the humor for what it is and root for Max and Leo.”

Andreas Bieber, the German actor cast as Leo Bloom, had negative experiences when he played Prince Rudolf in the 1992 Austro musical “Elisabeth” in a scene that suggested the beginning of the National Socialist movement. Armbands with a precursor of a swastika were worn, and some audience members hurled invectives at the stage and stormed out.

“There are still things you can’t show or put onstage,” Bieber says. “I don’t know if people will react badly. I think it’s time to present this point of view.”

“Austria should be ready,” says Vienna native and Burgtheater ensemble member Cornelius Obonya, who will star as Max. “This country can take a leap forward, but its past will always be there. We had and have so many problems with all the Nazi shit.

“Germany had a lot of discussions,” he adds. “They tried to work it out and find ways to prevent it from happening again. But Austria didn’t. It took until the early 1990s before we had a chancellor who tried to apologize.”

It now remains to be seen whether goose-stepping chorus girls will soothe or reopen old wounds.

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