Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Hillbarn has a hit with 'The Producers'


Ulla (Renee Deweese Moran) dances for Max (Edward Hightower, left) and Leo (James M. Jones).

When Mel Brooks wrote the book (with Thomas Meehan), music and lyrics for a musical about a musical that was supposed to be a flop but turned out to be a hit, he created his own hit with “The Producers.” The stage version is based on the 1968 film of the same name.

Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory is staging its own hit thanks go sharp direction and a talented cast and design team. All of these elements add up to laughter and enjoyment.

As the show opens, once-successful Broadway producer, the brash Max Bialystock (Edward Hightower) has just seen his latest show, “Funny Boy,” close after its opening night.

Shortly thereafter, a mousey accountant, Leo Bloom (James M. Jones), shows up to go over Max’s financial records. When he sees that $2,000 is still in the account, he comments that Max could make more money with a flop than a hit.

Max latches onto this comment and decides that he wants to produce a flop by finding the worst play, worst director, worst designers and worst actors for it. After some persuasion, Leo joins him as co-producer.

This leads them to “Springtime for Hitler,” a play by Hitler admirer Franz Liebkind (the versatile Keith Pinto), who forces them to meet several conditions before allowing them to produce it. These conditions include a silly dance and an oath swearing allegiance to Der Führer. Franz also keeps a collection of wing-flapping pigeons with Nazi insignia.

Once rights to the play are secured, Max and Leo prevail upon their worst director, Roger DeBris (John Mannion). He greets them wearing a glittering gown topped by a tall tiara. He looks like the Chrysler Building, one of the men says.

His sidekick is the tres gay Carmen Ghia (Jesse Cortez). His chosen designers also are quite gay. They decide that it’s important for the show’s success to “Keep It Gay.”

One other person who shows up in their orbit is a gorgeous blond Swedish woman, Ulla (Renee Deweese Moran), who celebrates her sexiness (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt it”) and leaves both Leo and Max salivating.

Max then sets about raising money for the show via his usual route: romancing elderly women who like to play risqué games in return for giving him money.

Quite unexpectedly, “Springtime for Hitler” turns out to be a huge hit. The two producers’ financial manipulations lead to big trouble with the law, but of course there’s a happy ending.

Given the subject matter of “The Producers,” there’s a fine line between bawdy shtick and bad taste in the hilarious lines and situations. Director Erica Wyman-Abrahamson and her well-chosen actors stay on the right side of that line.

Recorded music provides instrumental accompaniment for the singing, which is overseen by music director Rick Reynolds.

Dancing is a huge part of the show’s enjoyment, thanks to choreography by Christopher Childers. Just one example is “Along Came Bialy,” in which several of Max’s women friends dance with their walkers.

Credit for the ingenious costumes goes to Y. Sharon Peng. Scenic designer Kevin Davies keeps the show moving along despite the numerous scene changes and Hillbarn’s smallish stage. The lighting is by Pamila Gray with sound by Sheraj Ragoobeer.

The 20-member cast is likable, performing the acting, singing and dancing with ease. Those in the ensemble create a variety of characters.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “The Producers” will continue through May 14 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit

Photo by Tracy Martin










Tuesday, May 2, 2023

SpongeBob SquarePants takes to the stage as a musical

"The SpongeBob Musical" cast  takes its curtain call. (Scott Lasky photo)

“SpongeBob SquarePants,” the popular TV cartoon series created by Stephen Hillenburg, has taken to the stage as “The SpongeBob Musical” presented by Palo Alto Players.

This version, with its book by Kyle Jarrow and songs by several rock artists, finds Bikini Bottom and its underwater inhabitants threatened with annihilation by a volcanic eruption coming in about 48 hours.

SpongeBob SquarePants (Joe Galang) and his friends Sandy Cheeks (Solona Husband) and Patrick Star (Rocky James Concepcion) take it upon themselves to ascend the volcano and try to plug it up, thus preventing the eruption.

Attempting to thwart them are Sheldon Plankton (Nico Jaochico) and his wife, Karen the Computer (Kristy Aquino).

In the meantime, The Mayor (Alea Selburn) thinks she can solve the problem by forming committees to study it – otherwise known as bureaucracy.

Others in SpongeBob’s sphere are Squidward Q. Tentacles (Andrew Cope); Eugene Krabs (Zachary Vaughn-Munck) and his daughter, Pearl (Gillian Ortega); Larry the Lobster (Nicholas Hintzman); and others.

PAP artistic director Patrick Klein has directed this production and created its colorful, versatile set. Richard Hall is musical director with vocal direction by D. Asa Stern.

The imaginative, ingenious costumes are by Raissa Marchetti-Kozlov with lighting by Edward Hunter and sound by Jeff Grafton.

The energetic, athletic choreography is by Stacey Reed.

The 23-member cast is outstanding, offering fine singing, dancing and acting. Galang as the ever-optimistic SpongeBob is especially noteworthy.

This show likely has its greatest appeal for people who are familiar with the TV series. The April 30 matinee was well received by many in the audience, with many of them cheering after every scene and singing along with the cast at its curtain call. However, those who know little or nothing about the series might not be so enthusiastic.

Running about two and a half hours with an intermission, “The SpongeBob Musical” will continue through May 14 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit