It’s the opening of a new Max Bialystock play called “Funny Boy”, a musical version of Hamlet. Everyone ends up hating it and the show closes on opening night. Max, who was once the King of Old Broadway, sings to the audience of his past achievements and that he will return to form. The next day Leo Bloom, a mousy PA from the accounting firm Whitehall and Marks, arrives in Max’s office to look at his books. However, a couple of seconds later, one of Max’s investors arrives, and he tells Leo to go wait in the bathroom until she leaves. His investor, a little old lady who constantly repeats the phrase, “Hold Me, Touch Me” starts playing a game with Max which he later pauses and she gives him a check for his next play (which he hasn’t yet produced). After she leaves, Leo goes to look at the books, but then gets a panic attack. He calms down after a while and goes back to Max’s books. After some calculations, he realizes that under the right circumstances, a producer could actually make more money with a flop than he can with a hit. This then gives Max the idea for the ultimate scheme:
“Step 1: We find the worst play ever written. Step 2: We hire the worst director in town. Step 3: We raise two million dollars. There’s a lot of little old ladies out there! Step 4: We hire the worst actors in New York and open on Broadway and before you can say Step 5, we close on Broadway, take our two million and go to Rio.”
However, Leo refuses to help Max with his scheme and returns to work the books at Whitehall and Marks. When he gets back to work, he daydreams of becoming a Broadway producer and “driv[ing] those chorus girls insane.” He then realizes that his job is terrible, quits his job, and returns to Max. Overnight, they look for the worst play ever written without much luck. Finally, Max finds the sure-fire flop: “Springtime for Hitler, A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgaden” written by Franz Liebkind. They head down to his home in Off-Broadway to get the rights to the play. Leo and Max are only able to get them after singing Adolf Hitler’s favourite tune, “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” and saying the Ziegfried Oath promising never to dishonour “the spirit and the memory of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler.”
Leo and Max then go down to the house of Roger De Bris, the worst director in New York and a flamboyant homosexual to boot. At first, Roger declines the offer to direct because of the serious subject matter. Finally, after much persuading, Roger agrees to do it, but only if the ending is changed so the Germans end up winning World War II. The two finally arrive home where they meet Ulla, a Swedish bombshell who wants to audition for their next play. They are very aroused by her and hire her to be their secretary/slash/receptionist. Max then goes off to raise two million dollars for “Springtime for Hitler” by calling on all the little old ladies in New York.
Leo and Ulla are left alone for a little while and she starts to seduce him. Leo, who has always decided to stay away from any relationship, breaks his own rule and starts to go out with Ulla. The auditions for finding a terrible Hitler go unsuccessfully. One actor after another is shooed away by Roger. After Franz is outraged by one auditioner’s rendition of “Haben Sie Gehort Das Deutsche Band?”, he performs his own version and he is given the part. Opening night for “Springtime for Hitler” arrives and everyone is ready, until Franz breaks his leg. Max gives Roger the part of Hitler and he rushes to dressing room to get ready. Unfortunately, Roger’s performance is so campy, the audience mistakes the show for a comedy and it becomes the talk of the town. Max and Leo wonder where they went right. Franz is horrified by Roger’s potrayal of his beloved Fuhrer and comes into Max’s office shooting at everyone. The police hear the commotion and arrive taking away Franz, Roger and Max. However, Leo hides and Ulla finds him and convinces him to take the two million dollars and run off to Rio as Max had planned.
In prison, Max receives a postcard from Leo and feels betrayed and recounts the whole play (including intermission) up to that point. At his trial Max pleads guilty, but then Leo and Ulla arrive and tell the judge that Max is a good man who would never hurt anyone. The judge is touched by this and decides not to separate the two…so he sends the two to spend time in Sing Sing prison for 5 years. In prison, they do the same thing again with a new musical entitled “Prisoners of Love,” which goes to Broadway when they are pardoned by the Governor. Leo and Max continue to produce Broadway musicals
that would seem to flop (given the various titles) but like Springtime for Hitler, they’re a hit. After the curtain call, there is one last song with the cast telling the audience to leave.