Mel Brooks stretched the boundaries of musical taste with “Springtime for Hitler”. Now take your seats for “An Evening with Joe – Stalin The Musical”.
Sing along to “The Gulag Rag” and “Mrs Stalin Regrets”. Enjoy a high-kicking, Moulin Rouge-style funeral for the Soviet dictator with a rousing chorus of “Sweet Stalin I’m In Love Again”.
Cambridge student James Stevens, who wrote and directed the show now appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is the first to admit it may not be to everybody’s taste but insists the musical is out to satirise, not trivialise.
“We have had our poster ripped down outside the venue and people abusing us in the streets,” he told Reuters. “In Cambridge too we got a lot of negative feedback at the start.”
“We have ignored a scarier figure than Hitler.”
— Writer/director James Stevens
But the 22-year-old graduate felt strongly that he “wanted to get away from history as simply a collection of dry statistics and tell what is ultimately a very human story”.
“We are not in any way minimalising the horrors. We are just trying to make people think,” he said before the midnight show by Cambridge University’s Amateur Dramatic Club was given a rousing reception by its young audience.
The Cambridge theatre group has a rich tradition – previous members include actor Ian McKellen and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes.
Hitler on Broadway
Inevitably critics have drawn comparisons with Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers” in which the outrageous musical “Springtime for Hitler” is conceived as a deliberate flop to take the backers’ cash, but becomes a theatrical smash.
“The Producers” did just that in real life, itself becoming a huge Broadway hit.
Stevens accepts the comparisons but insists he had never heard of “The Producers” when he started writing the piece.
With lines like “Give genocide a helping hand”, the show may alarm some, but Stevens argues that his motive was to put the record straight.
“The Nazis are the great horrors of history and we have tended to overlook the equally unpalatable stories from further east. We have ignored a scarier figure than Hitler,” he said.
“After the Second World War, Stalin became the avuncular figure who helped to beat the Nazi menace. The seedier side was ignored. He was a charming psychopath.
“This is a very contemporary tale about using power to further a moral purpose. It is the original Evil Empire, the Axis of Evil.”