One of the smart things I've done in my life is that when I saw a mention that when Mel Brooks adapted his movie of The Producers into a stage musical and how it would have its world premiere tryout in Chicago, I immediately called up my folks and said that the very moment they saw an ad for the show, they should get three tickets at once and I would plan my visit into town at that time, to see it.
They did just that, and when the first ad appeared they got three tickets in the eighth row on the second night. After the reviews were published, and were beyond raves, the entire limited run was sold out within days. When friends of my parents found out we had already seen the show, they were in awe. How in the world did you even get tickets??, they all asked. Our son told us to, six months ago, they said.
The show was tremendous. One of the funniest nights in the theater I've had, the laughter resounding throughout the place kept growing all night and was uproarious. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were an utter joy -- as were all the supporting cast. It helped, too, not knowing a thing about the show, absolutely zero details, not even knowing whether it was supposed to be good or not. We did know from a couple headlines that those two critics had loved it, but there were a lot more reviewers that hadn't reported in. So, that total sense of discovery helped, too. But not just for us -- for the cast, too. Keep in mind that this was just the second night -- even they didn't know yet that they had a massive hit, let alone if the audience would even like it. So, their sense of discovery of the roars of laughter made for even more excitement.
(Fun, too, is that before the show we had dinner at a restaurant next door, and Mel Brooks was there. And he was on the proverbial Cloud Nine, going around the place. Maybe 25 years earlier, my folks had twice taken vacations to the Virgin Islands the same time that Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were vacationing there. And while they didn't become friends, they did have a tiny "vacation friendship," including my dad playing tennis with Brooks on those trips. Now, you must understand, my dad is Midwest Taciturn, but when he saw Mel Brooks wandering around that restaurant, he called out, "Mel! Mel!" and waved him over. We had a nice chat, he pretended to remember my dad -- though he clearly did remember vacationing in the Virgin Islands -- and it made the evening all the more special, especially for my folks.)
I'm glad the movie got made and with so much of the original cast, and the stage director directing the film. But I didn't care much for the movie. It was pretty flat. A lot of things got cut out (including, insanely, the main opening number, "The King of Broadway." And much of the theatricality got lost.
But this is where we come to the "real treat" part of the evening. Because all the theatricality didn't get lost. Here is live footage from that Chicago tryout!! And better still...yes, it's THE Number. A full 13-minutes of "Springtime for Hitler" including the sequence leading into it. And also the Hitler Dance Off that was cut from the movie.
I'm more than a bit aghast that someone would actually having the gall to record this from the audience, but since there was a movie version released and this material would be lost forever, it's admittedly nice to have it in existence and worth posting.
All the more worth it because I thought the number in the film was awful, though it's virtually the same staging as in the theater. That's the problem -- they had to stage it this way in the theater, telescoping the action, because you couldn't "cut away" or cut to the audience. Or cut to Max and Leo hiding out in the bar. But in the film, there not only was no need to "compact" supposedly the whole play into 10-minutes, it was idiotic that they did so. But...on stage it works. And you can see that in this footage, and why. Same material, but it works here, while not in the film.
The lead-in scene is begins after they've sent Franz Liebkind off to play Hitler, telling him to break a leg, and he falls downstairs. We see Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Roger Bart as the assistant Carmen Ghia, and Gary Beach as Roger DeBris, the director. Beach ultimately won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Here's one of the reasons why. Live from the world premiere tryout in Chicago --
And as a bonus, here is Gary Beach winning that Tony Award at the 2001 ceremony. Two other members of the cast were nominated in the category, as well -- the aforementioned Roger Bart and Brad Oscar, who played Franz Liebkind. And in the audience, applauding his win, are a very happy Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.