Written for the 2012 B2MeM Bingo prompt 'Crossover: Comedy Book or Movie'. This is, of course, a crossover with Mel Brooks's hysterical movie 'The Producers', in this case the 1968 version with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
The blinding insight came to Leo Fieldinbloom as he scrutinised Max Stockbrook's accounts: scraps of parchment tossed into a box higgeldy-piggeldy. 'Do you know,' he observed, 'you could make more money producing a flop than a successful play.'
Max, who was pondering the chances of wooing the Widow Pointyheels into bed and then out of second breakfast, dropped the butter knife he was using to pare his toenails and sat up. 'What?' he exclaimed, his nose twitching as it always did at the possibility of easy money. 'How?'
'Well, I notice that you raised more money for your last musical, Oliphaunt!, than you needed.'
Max whistled innocently. 'I did?'
'Yes.' Leo frowned. 'You're going to have to refund those investors, Max.'
'Oh come on, Fieldinbloom. It's only a few hundred silver pennies. You're an accountant; surely you can hide it. Isn't that what accountants do?'
'Mr. Stockbrook, it's unethical.'
'Ethical, shmethical. Now to get back to that suggestion you had...'
Leo squirmed uncomfortably, wishing he hadn't spoken. 'It wasn't a suggestion, just an observation.'
'An observation containing a seed of brilliance,' replied Max, who understood the benefit of a properly-placed compliment.
Leo, a timid, mousy hobbit who had never been called brilliant in his life, blushed. 'Brilliance?'
'Yes, brilliance. Now explain.'
'Well, no one ever questions what happens to the money when a play flops, do they? They just assume it was all lost. So if you oversold a play that was a guaranteed-to-close-on-opening night flop, you could theoretically make a fortune.' Leo felt quite chuffed as Max's eyes opened wider and wider with impressed amazement.
'Brilliance? Did I say brilliance, Fieldinbloom? It's genius, that's what it is. Pure genius.'
'And a crime, Mr. Stockbrook. You could end up in the lockholes.'
'Bah!' Max waved a dismissive hand. 'With a genius accountant like you to help? We'll be smoking the finest Longbottom Leaf, drinking Old Winyards by the barrel-full, and eating not just first and second breakfast, but third and fourth, too.'
'We?' squeaked Leo. 'What are you talking about?'
Max leaped to his feet and went to Leo, putting an arm around the shrinking accountant's shoulders. 'Picture it, Leo,' he said almost reverently. 'A sumptuous hole in Harad, right on the sea. And girls, young, pretty, scantily clad, not to mention tall, and all of them clamouring for your attention. It can be yours, Leo, it can all be yours.'
Leo wavered and then crumbled, seduced by the rosy vision of the future that Max painted. 'We'll need to find a guaranteed flop, Mr. Stockbrook,' he said.
'Max,' said Max, kissing him jubilantly on the cheek. 'Call me Max.'
Leo adjusted the cuffs of his green velvet jacket for the hundredth time. Never had he been so nervous. The 'Will Whitfoot Theatre' in Michel Delving was filled to capacity with hobbits eager to see the newest Max Stockbrook production. The front three rows were packed with the wealthy widows whom Max had wooed into investing in the play.
Max had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, overselling the production by 25,000 percent. He had also come near to collapse from over-exertion and over-eating. But now, resplendent in scarlet and gold, with gems winking on his fingers and in the buttons of the silk waistcoat that strained over his ample stomach, Max stood beside Leo at the rear of the theatre looking as if he hadn't a care in the world.
'Stop worrying, Leo,' Max whispered, seeing his partner mop his perspiring brow with a pocket handkerchief. 'We found the worst playwright in the history of Middle-earth, Ted Sandyman the 8th, and the worst play in the history of Middle-earth, 'Winter for Sauron'. It's a guaranteed flop, I tell you. Harad, here we come!'
The orchestra started to play. Max held Leo's hand as the music swelled, filling the theatre.
Dancers poured onto the stage. A gasp went up from the audience as they saw that some of the dancers carried whips and wore Orc costumes with a flaming red eye on their tunics while nine others were enveloped in hoods and robes of black.
Barad-dûr was having trouble, they sang.
What a sad, sad story.
Needed a golden ring to restore
Its former glory.
Where, oh, where was It?
Was it thrown into a pit?
We looked around and then we found
The Ring and yes, it fit.
And now it's…
Winter for Sauron in Barad-dûr,
Mordor is glorious grey.
Ringwraiths are flying o'er the land,
Cut off the traitor Frodo's hand.
Winter for Sauron in Barad-dûr,
Where there's a whip there's a will.
We'll march them to a faster pace,
Enslave the en-tire hobbit-race.
Winter for Sauron in Barad-dûr...
Look out Gondor,
We're going on tour!
Stunned silence fell over the crowd as the Orcs began to tap dance and crack their whips, while the Ringwraiths linked arms and began to high kick. Max elbowed Leo gleefully and pointed out a few hobbits who had gotten up and were leaving.
'I've never seen anything so disgraceful,' they heard one say. 'Tasteless!' sniffed another.
Overcome with joy, Max and Leo clung to each other. Then Max said prudently, 'Perhaps we had better retire to the Mithril Corslet, Leo. I have a feeling our lives might be in danger if we stay here.'
Thus it was that Max and Leo, toasting each other by the common-room with fine ale and discussing plans for their journey to Harad, completely missed what happened next.
As the remaining hobbits sat flabbergasted and unable to move from sheer disbelief, the musical number ended, the dancers departed, and an actor dressed in black and with a mask of a flaming red eye covering his head meandered onto the stage. It was the star of the musical, Wesley Erling-Diggle, more commonly known as Weed as he was usually to be found under the influence - which in fact is how he came to be in the play, having wandered into the audition entirely by mistake. Max, being no fool, pounced on him at once and gave him the lead.
Weed bumbled into the set pieces, and finally found his way to an armchair and threw himself into it. He began twirling a gold ring around on his finger and sighing heavily.
'Mouth,' he called. 'Mouth?'
'I'm coming, Oh Great One, Sauron, Ruler of Middle-earth,' said a voice and another hobbit dressed all in black appeared from stage right. He wore a steel helm beneath which only a hideously deformed mouth showed, and he bowed obsequiously before Sauron.
'I'm bored, Mouth,' said Sauron. 'I've covered all the lands in a second darkness. I've enslaved all the free peoples of Middle-earth. What's left to do? Take up crocheting?'
A few titters broke out in the audience.
'Perhaps you might consider conquering Aman next, Oh Great One.'
'Saurie. I keep telling you to call me Saurie. I might look like a giant eyeball, but I still have feelings, you know.'
'I beg your pardon, Oh Great, uh, I mean Saurie.'
'That's more like it. Now what's all this about, uh, what did you call it?'
'Is that a place?'
Someone in the audience guffawed, and general laughter broke out. A few hobbits who had been starting to leave rushed back to their seats.
'It is the home of the Valar and the Elves, from whence you originally came.'
'Did I? I had no idea I was born there. So, how do we get to 'Aman' and start this conquering business?'
'We must find the Straight Road over the sea and sail into the uttermost west.'
''Over the sea', huh? I like the sound of that, Mouth.' Sauron reached under the armchair and fished around until he found a small guitar and brought it out. He started strumming and singing.
Gotta find the Straight Road,
Sail over the Sea,
Bring my Orcs to Aman,
Find my first daddy.
The hobbits in the audience were now doubled over with laughter, and continued to laugh. When the play was over, after a lengthy standing ovation, they dried their streaming eyes and headed to the Mithril Corslet for refreshment.
'Here they come, Leo,' hissed Max. 'Prepare to run for your life.'
Hiding their faces as best they could behind their jacket collars, Leo and Max watched the common-room fill with theatre-going hobbits, all abuzz.
Listening avidly for the first words of criticism and condemnation, what Max heard instead was the last thing in Middle-earth he had ever expected: ''Winter for Sauron' is the funniest show I've ever seen.' 'What a scream!' 'I'm coming back tomorrow and bringing the entire family with me.' 'I hope it never closes. I want to see it again and again.'
Max clutched Leo's sleeve. 'Are you hearing what I'm hearing?'
Leo swallowed hard. He was pale and shaken. 'They liked it. Max, they liked it.'
'How is that possible? How?' Max almost shrieked. 'It was a guaranteed flop.'
'I don't know, I don't know,' Leo said. He clutched his hair. 'Oh. Ohhhh,' he moaned. 'The lockholes. We're going to be put in the lockholes.'
'Stop it, Leo. Now is no time to panic.'
'If now isn't a time to panic, when is?' Leo rejoined.
There was no answer to that.
Suddenly matters went from bad to worse. A face thrust between them. It was their playwright, Ted Sandyman the 8th. 'My play, my beautiful play. What did you do to it? You ruined it,' he said, a demented look in his eyes. 'You made Sauron into a buffoon. People were laughing at him. And what happened to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather? He was supposed to be Sauron's most trusted servant, the lord of the Shire. You cut him out completely.'
Almost Max started to reason with him, and then an idea came to him. 'You're right, Ted,' he said. 'We made a terrible, terrible mistake.'
Leo was staring at him as if he'd gone mad.
'You can't let the play go on,' Max added. 'You've got to do something. The reputation of your Dark Lord and your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather depend on it.'
Ted grabbed hold of their jacket sleeves. 'I know what to do,' he said. 'Come with me.'
The burning of the 'Will Whitfoot Theatre' was the biggest scandal of the year. The trial of Max Stockbrook, Leo Fieldinbloom and Ted Sandyman the 8th, who were caught red-handed with oil and torches by an alert Shirriff, was the biggest social event of the year.
Despite Leo's impassioned defense of Max, whom he painted as a misunderstood hobbit who wanted only to bring joy and happiness to the world, and the presence of several dozen widows weeping dramatically in the gallery, the jury found all three defendants 'incredibly guilty' and they were unceremonisouly hauled off to the lockholes.
'Can you forgive me, Leo?' Max humbly asked several days later as they sat side by side in their cell.
'Of course I can, Max,' replied Leo. 'Because of you, for the first time in my life I felt like a hobbit of worth. How can I ever repay you?'
'Well,' said Max, 'I thought you might help me put on a show to cheer up our fellow prisoners. I've thought of a title for it: Lockholes of Love.'
So Leo did, and they oversold the production by 15,000 percent.