The old “let’s put on a show” theme gets severely twisted in the latest musical at the City Theater in Biddeford. “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ satirical but affectionate ode to showbiz, is being presented in a thoroughly entertaining production.

Based on the 1967 movie, the award-winning 2001 musical recounts the tale of Max Bialystock, a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who quickly warms to his milquetoast accountant Leopold Bloom’s idea of putting together a show that is guaranteed to fail and make off with the backer’s money.

They choose a musical by a wacky neo-Nazi that celebrates Adolph Hitler and go on to enlist an eccentric director to bring it to the stage. “Springtime for Hitler,” is certain to have a brief run, and the producers are all but packing their bags to head for Rio. But, of course, the show’s a smash hit and the producing partners are in trouble.

At over two and a half hours plus intermission, the show could easily exhaust both the performers and the audience. But Brooks’ celebration of the boundless pleasures of theater is brought home in this production by an inspired cast of local talents.

With a nod to the work of Nathan Lane, who originated the role on Broadway, Brian McAloon is an excellent Bialystock. At times manic, but always scheming and conniving, his Max is a hilarious behind-the-scenes character who romances “little old lady” backers, cajoles half-mad playwrights and instructs his partner Leo in the ways of the Great White Way.

In the well-known role, it’s some of McAloon’s little touches – takes and asides – that draw extra laughs. But his big song and dance numbers, many in duet with Miles Gervais as Leo, also show him able to command the theatrical moment.

Gervais is also funny as his Leo comes out of his shell under the guidance of Max and his own emerging theatrical ambitions. His work on “I Wanna Be a Producer” makes literal his character’s transformation from dreary accountant to top-hat-and-cane showman.

Leo also gets to romance the curvaceous receptionist/secretary/singer/dancer Ulla, played by Elizabeth Lester, whose theme is the suggestive “When You’ve Got it, Flaunt It.” Lester’s more formal training in ballet is also revealed in dance numbers as are the tapping talents of several members of the ensemble.

Stereotypes and dated humor are certainly not avoided in this show. “Springtime” director Roger deBris and his assistant Carmen Ghia, played by Michael Donovan and Tommy Waltz, try hard to “Keep It Gay,” while Max and Leo seem fixated elsewhere when they sing about “That Face.” Caleb Lacy, as the wacky author, adds Teutonic craziness to the mix.

City Theater regular Schuyler White adds a strong lead vocal in the show-within-a-show, as goose-stepping dancers do their thing around him. Rebbekah Willey leads an eight-piece orchestra from high above the action.

No plan for failure here. Producer/director Linda Sturdivant, cast and crew have obviously worked hard to make this production an impressive success.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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