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