Phill Jupitus on playing a nazi

Phill Jupitus as Franz Liebkind in The Producers. Pic: Comp
Phill Jupitus as Franz Liebkind in The Producers. Pic: Comp
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SWASTIKA-wearing storm troopers will goose-step onto the stage of the Festival Theatre next week in Springtime For Hitler, the show within a show that Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom are banking on making them millions, not by being a hit, but by proving a massive flop.

Welcome to the mad, mad world of Mel Brooks’ satirical Broadway smash, The Producers, which comes to the Capital with an all-star musical theatre and celebrity cast led by West End favourites Cory English, David Bedella and Tiffany Graves.

They are joined by funny man Jason Manford, Louie Spence, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks favourite Phill Jupitus.

Based on Brooks’ 1968 film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (which he adapted as a Broadway musical in 2001, and again for the 2005 movie version with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick), The Producers is the tale of Bialystock and Bloom.

Impoverished by a string of flops, New York producer Bialystock recruits timid accountant Bloom to help him pull off Broadway’s greatest scam.

Together they aim to produce the worst show ever (Springtime For Hitler, written by Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind) and make off to Rio with the millions invested when it closes. Soon, however, they learn show business can always find a way to kick you in the teeth.

Jupitus has the unenviable task of bringing Liebkind to life, something he does in a perfectly pitched performance that’s dangerously funny and not just because he has a gun. It’s a bonkers scene-stealing turn that is going down a treat with audiences.

“I was trying to work out when I first saw the film,” he reflects. “I think I was about 10 or 12. I’m sure I saw all the Mel Brooks’ films in the wrong order, but The Producers is something I’ve been living with since I was a kid.”

As Liebkind, the sight of Jupitus in his tin helmet, lederhosen, woolly socks and Nazi armband is in itself enough to elicit a howl of laughter.

Throw in a few stuffed pigeons, some nifty footwork, a great singing voice and wonderfully sardonic delivery, and the character becomes hilarious. No mean feat when one scene involves declaring your loyalty to the Führer.

Not that it’s Jupitus’ first time playing a Nazi.

“At the Fringe, three years ago, I did a show called You’re Probably Wondering Why I’ve Asked You Here... in which I played a U Boat captain called Kurt Schiffer, so this is my second Nazi in three years,” he says. “I’m thinking typecasting, and what a terrible type to be cast as. It’s weird.”

Jupitus is also no stranger to musicals either. The Producers will be his fifth singing role, having made his debut as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, thanks his long-time role as Team Captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

He explains, “I never know how the musical thing really started,” he admits. “The first person who ever saw me was a casting agent called David Grindrod. Someone told me he wanted to see me for a musical. I said: ‘F***ing what!?!’

“But I went, and sang with a piano player so he could get my range and I asked: ‘Why am I here?’

“He replied, ‘Well, I heard you sing on Buzzcocks, when you do the Intros Round. You did something the other day and the minute you did it I knew what it was, and it wasn’t an easy tune. So I knew then that you can hold a tune and you’ve got a good presence.’ ”

Until then, Jupitus concedes he had never thought of a career in musicals, although as a kid he had once sung on stage.

“At school, when I was about nine, they did the songs of Oliver! I remember singing I’d Do Anything with one of the girls. I was also the compere. That was the first time anyone really went, ‘Well he can talk’. So occasionally they’d let me host things at school.”

Not that Jupitus really envisaged being an entertainer of any sort in those days. That came about by accident, he insists.

“It’s on record that I started as a poet. Then one night a guy said, ‘You should perform them yourself. Go up before me and do a couple.’

“I just stood up and read poems to the room... but then you get your first laugh and think, ‘Oh, that’s good. I like that.’

“It’s such a giggle, all about the control of the room. Then you learn there are different ways of doing that. You learn that silence and stillness is just as powerful being a Lee Evans ball of kinetic energy.”

That role in Hairspray was followed by parts in the musicals Spamalot, Big Society and Urinetown, in which he first worked with Cory English.

All of which makes him very much a bona fide musical theatre star these days - something, he reveals, has made his mother very happy.

“The strangest thing is, after I did Hairspray for three months I found I got on better with my mum. She used to come and see it and not tell me she was coming, which was very odd because usually she can’t get her head around what I do.

“She sees telly as very transitory. It’s not a job. But musicals she understand.”

He laughs, “So she likes it when I am in musicals, it seems more honourable to her than me flirting with Stephen Fry for money.”

The Producers, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £16.50-£42.50, 0131 529 6000