When opportunity knocks in theater, you don’t say “no.” Bil Morrilll hadn’t planned to make his directorial debut with the musical comedy The Producers, which opens Friday, Oct 6, for a four-week run at Cottage Theatre. A longtime stage manager for shows at the community theater in Cottage Grove, he had been scheduled to direct his first show ever next season with a production of The 39 Steps.
Then, Morrill says, two weeks before rehearsals of The Producers were scheduled to begin in August, the director and several members of the creative team dropped out of the show “for personal reasons.” Morrill, who was to have been the stage manager, was the obvious choice to step up.
Of course he said yes. “Hey, I know the script,” he says in a phone interview. “And it’s a really fun show.”
Based on the 1967 Mel Brooks movie of the same name, The Producers became a Broadway musical comedy in 2001. In a nutshell, two stage producers who have just made money on a failed show decide the easiest way to make a lot of money is to have the show fail spectacularly.
So they set about finding the worst musical script and the worst director in the world, leading to a production of the ridiculously bad Springtime for Hitler — which, to their consternation, becomes a roaring success when audiences see it as a satire.
Because of its outrageous humor, the original film The Producers drew mixed reviews, in part because World War II and the Nazis were still relatively fresh in people’s memory. In a 1968 The New Yorker review, critic Pauline Kael called it “amateurishly crude.”
But the Broadway musical version ran for 2,502 performances and garnered 12 Tony Awards.
Morrill is confident that there’s no reason to polish off any rough edges off the story for audiences in 2023.
“Mel Brooks comedy is definitely a different take on issues,” Morrill says. “But we are not changing anything within the show.”
The director sees the story as about the friendship between conniving producer Max Bialystock, played by Al Villaneuva, and Leo Bloom, his accountant, played by Kory Weimer. “How to be a good friend is where I’m trying to focus,” Morrill says.
Others leading the cast include Earl Ruttencutter as Franz Liebkind, the former Nazi soldier who wrote Springtime for Hitler, and Brendan Francis as Carmen Ghia, partner of the worst director to have ever lived.
Morrill says jumping in as director at the last moment has been a learning process, but the work is similar to his day job as an assistant director for academic and career advising at the University of Oregon. The main thing he’s learned on the job in his new role?
“Listen to the actors. Listen to the artistic team. And still have the ability to tweak things a little bit. I am not making decisions — I am leading the decisions.”
The Producers opens at 7:30 pm Friday, Oct. 6, and runs through Oct. 29 at Cottage Theatre, 700 Village Drive, Cottage Grove. Tickets and more information at CottageTheatre.org.