Mel Brooks' "The Producers" is a good show about a bad show. Based on his own 1968 movie, this Tony Award-winning 2001 Broadway musical remains as cheerfully vulgar as ever in the entertaining production by Silhouette Stages.
Where appalling taste is concerned, it would be difficult to top a tune called "Springtime for Hitler." The show's ingeniously lowbrow premise is that a struggling producer realizes it's possible to make more money from a flop than a hit. All he needs is a clever accountant who knows how to cook the books.
The two naturally assume that a festive showgirl-populated musical celebrating Hitler will be guaranteed to close on opening night. Well, they find out that a life in showbiz is full of surprises.
It also was a surprise that Mel Brooks, who is known for movies and not theater, would take so impressively to the musical theater format. Brooks wrote the music and lyrics himself, and he collaborated with Thomas Meehan on the book. "The Producers" is as well-crafted as it is naughty.
Although the Silhouette Stages production understandably can't fully reproduce the glitzy excess that made "Springtime for Hitler" and several other musical numbers such monuments to bad taste, this staging has enough over-the-top props, costumes and performances to make it good for a giggle.
Co-director Mo Dutterer, a longt-time sent out an email Friday, March 8, that this weekend's performances would be "my directorial Swan Song. The last three performances begin tonight."
Dutterer has been a member of the Howard County performing arts community since 1973. He taught theater at Centennial High School for 25 years and was the founding director of the Howard County Summer theater in 1975 and Sihouette Stages in 2003.
Dutterer an co-director Ric Ryder oversee a relatively ambitious production whose staging requirements range from a Teutonic showgirl's giant sausage-adorned headdress to a chorus line comprised of little old ladies with walkers.
Despite occasionally slow between-scene pauses here and there, this production flows smoothly; and despite some overly tight staging in the ensemble numbers, choreographer Tina Maria DeSimone ensures that the energetic dance movement remains neatly coordinated.
That energy burst also owes a lot to musical director Michael Tan, who leads the four-member band from his perch at the keyboard. It was a smart move to place the band at the front of the auditorium rather than placing the band somewhere on stage, because it's already pretty crowded up there. Although the drums sometimes threaten to overwhelm the other instruments, it's admittedly a percussive score that does not aim to be subtle.
Of course, all that directorial, choreographic and musical support wouldn't amount to much unless it supported the shameless producer and accountant who concoct this intended fiasco. That's where Silhouette Stages is blessed to have made savvy casting choices for the producer and the accountant.
Ryan Geiger has the stocky build and blustery personality that make Max such an undeniable theatrical force. Although it's frustrating that Geiger is suitably assertive in some scenes and oddly timid in others, he has what it takes to be Max Bialystock and seems likely to give a more consistently abrasive performance during the rest of the run.
The real star of this production is Brian Sackett as Max's sidekick, Leo Bloom, the meek accountant who thinks up the bold scheme to raise more money than is needed to stage the Hitler-themed Broadway show and then pocket the difference.
Sackett makes Leo so nervous that it's all the more fun watching the accountant confront the consequences of their scheme. Leo may lack confidence as a character, but it's a pleasure to hear how confidently Sackett expresses that insecurity in Leo's songs.
Among the supporting players, Matt Scheer is amusingly cartoonish as Franz Liebkind, the wildly stereotypical German lunatic who writes the source play for the Hitler musical in his Greenwich Village apartment.
"The Producers" runs through March 10 at Slayton House Theatre, at 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$18. Call 410-637-5289 or go to http://www.silhouettestages.com.