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Roger That!

November 16, 2006 By:
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For Chrysler's sakes, Roger DeBris (Brad Nacht) is the center of attention in "The Producers," at the Merriam Theater.

DeBris, meet de Brad.

The two are familiar enough; after all, Brad Nacht's turn as Roger DeBris in "The Producers" is musical theater at its most cutting.

As the flamboyant and fey director who shimmies as he shakes up anyone's conceit of good taste, DeBris is delight on his feet -- and his brain doesn't weigh three pounds either.

He is a Mel Brooks invention at its most mischievous in this tawdry terrifically funny tale -- now at the Merriam Theater -- of two producers who teach how to succeed in failure without really trembling.

As DeBris, the mohel the merrier: How does Nacht pull it ... uh, the role ... off?

It's a matter of dressing for success -- and finding the right pair of shoes to accessorize that dress, says Nacht. "In the beginning, I had trouble getting that $10,000 dress on -- it's low-couture -- and they had to make a special pair of shoes for me since I wear size 14."

Don't choose Jimmy Choos -- go for a boat oar! Of course, the dress DeBris is wearing is to a costume party, attired as the Chrysler Building. In real life, he is more zoom-zoom than vroom-vroom.

In many ways, Nacht's the engine of the big musical that could. As the director who finds "Springtime for Hitler" a show for all seasons, Nacht knocks good taste with a ka-nock to its kup.

At least in this production, he's wearing something. Last time he passed through Philadelphia, Nacht was appearing apparently in the altogether of the finale -- overshadowed by bright lights -- of "The Full Monty," the fulsomely funny Broadway musical. "I invite my parents to see me; the first time I'm not wearing anything, the second I'm dressed as Adolf Hitler."

Nachas from kinder? Nacht's kinder thinks so. Talented and terrific, Brad is everyone's dream Hitler ... or should that be nightmare? But it is a dream job for the merry Maryland native son, whose Jewish background includes getting his degree from Catholic University.

Third Reich's the charm? "I grew up in theater," he says, "been doing theater since I was 5. I've been around some eccentric characters during that time, but Roger DeBris is the best.

"Getting to be a gay Hitler is fun."

Seig ... hello? Not everyone puts out the welcome mat: "Not everyone gets it," he says of the character, a gay if not carefree director who winds up replacing his lead actor as Hitler in the musical within the musical within the mishugas.

Wildly applauded in some cities, other cities sit on their hands; you couldn't locate applause in those sites with MapQuest."In some places, maybe it's a little quiet."

He is a roar of a performer, a protean pro with panache who gets a spring in his high-heel step every time he takes part in the swastika swagger that is "Springtime for Hitler."

"It's the best role in the show," Nacht says proudly.

How distinct the emotional debris of playing DeBris? What does he leave behind after doing this character night after Nacht -- besides his top hat? How sweet the sui generis? After all, it's not every character named after a circumcision. He laughs. "I never thought of it like that."

Hold that thought. Actually, this dream part kept him up at nights originally. A Jewish mensch playing an outre director playing Hitler? "I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?' "

Just the Tony Award-winningest box-office smash in Broadway history. And, as far as any initial discomfort, the role fits like a nice pair of stormtrooper boots now. "Well," he acknowledges of his slipping into the skin of his character, "clothes do make the Fuhrer."

Roger that! But what dictates a successful encore after playing such a dictator? What role could ever be a natural follow-up?

"Mussolini?" he quips.

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