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This summer, the Athens Theatre in DeLand is offering a rewarding retreat from the harsh heat and is doling out a heavy dose of rollicking Mel Brooks humor with The Producers!

With sashaying soldiers, showbiz schmucks and a spectacularly sultry Swede, this winner of 12 Tony Awards (more than any other play of any kind — including Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical) was originally created as a 1967 movie starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. It started as an anecdote.

In 1962, a reporter asked Brooks, “‘What are you going to do next?’ and Brooks answered, ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ He was just being outrageous, riffing, perhaps, on the title of a forgotten 1931 comedy called Springtime for Henry, but the phrase stuck” (Sam Kashner, The Magazine). And five years later, the movie The Producers was released to, shall we say, mixed reviews.

Audiences were not ready.

Even though this original version did not take the world by storm, it introduced the comedic master Mel Brooks and readied moviegoers for his later hit films like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, History of the World: Part I and a number of other absurdly funny films.

When The Producers opened on Broadway in 2001, audiences were ready for it this time, and were ready for all of its lighthearted and deliciously offensive, tongue-in-cheek antics.

As Brooks said in a 2004 interview, “The Producers is like Halley’s comet. … It’ll have a metamorphosis, like Ovid. I’m proud of it. After all, it started out as a title.”

The plot is simple: Max Bialystock (played by Mike Funero, who also starred in the Athens’ Spamalot and Sweeney Todd) is a shmuckster, has-been producer who finances productions by wooing and swindling little old ladies. When the mousy money-counter Leo Bloom (Michael Thibodeau, who recently starred in Orlando Repertory Theatre’s Seussical) arrives to do Bialystock’s books, he figures out that a producer can make more money on a flop than on a success. All they need to do is raise more than the show actually costs to produce and then pocket the remainder.

Despite Bloom’s protests, together they, along with their newly hired Swedish secretary, Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson (Madeline Regier, who recently wowed as Kathy Selden in the Athens’ Singin’ in the Rain), set out to produce the worst show ever. And they do.

They find a surefire flop, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, written by Franz Liebkind (played by Andrew G. Johnson). It’s a show that will offend people of all races, creeds and religions.

To further ensure that Liebkind’s play will fail, Bialystock and Bloom hire the most incompetent director they can find, a cross-dressing Busby Berkeley reject, Roger De Bris (Mark W. Hardin).

With the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast, how could their scheme possibly go wrong? Right?

To find out what happens next, you’ll have to do as De Bris says, and “Keep it sassy, keep it classy, keep it gay,” and visit the Athens Theatre to see why this show, that is just so wrong, is just right to give you a sidesplitting night out.

The Athens Theatre invites you to join them Friday, July 19, as they celebrate opening night of The Producers with a free Champagne toast.

Performances run through Sunday, Aug. 11, though, so if you can’t make it on opening night, come to any of the other performances and treat yourself to an outing you will not forget!

The Athens Theatre is at 124 N. Florida Ave. in Downtown DeLand.

Showtimes and ticket information

The Mel Brooks comedy will celebrate opening night Friday, July 19, with a free Champagne toast. The play and continues Saturday, July 20, Thursday, July 25, Friday, July 26, Saturday, July 27, Thursday, Aug. 1, Friday, Aug. 2, Saturday, Aug. 3, Thursday, Aug. 8, Friday, Aug. 9, and Saturday, Aug. 10, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 21, Sunday, July 28, Sunday, Aug. 4, and Sunday, Aug. 11.

Tickets cost $29 for preferred seating (rows A-E, center); $25 for adults; $23 for senior citizens; $11 for students and children; and $21 per person for groups of eight or more. A $3-per-ticket processing charge will be added to each purchase.

To purchase your tickets in advance or find out more information, visit the Athens Theatre website at www.AthensDeLand.com or call the box office at 386-736-1500. Box-office hours are 1-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, and one-and-a-half hours before live performances.


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