Hillbarn Theatre: ‘The Producers’ will make you chortle with delight

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 3/5 Stars » Recommended)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Mel Brooks came to the startled attention of the American public with his 1968 debut film, The Producers. Critic Roger Ebert recalls encountering Mr. Brooks in a New York elevator shortly after it opened and hearing a lady announce, “Mr. Brooks, I think your film is vulgar.” Brooks replied, “Lady, my film rises below vulgarity!” That year, Brooks won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

The Producers are Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, who set out to make a fortune by finding the worst possible play, overselling stock, and absconding with the money when the play inevitably fails. The worst possible play, however, “Springtime For Hitler”, is an unexpected hit. The film, which featured a chorus of goose stepping Nazis, a Hitler under the influence of L.S.D. and a stage director in drag who is astounded to learn that “the Third Reich was Germany!” has been called a cult classic since the day of its release.

In 2001, Brooks successfully reintroduced The Producers as a Broadway musical.

Hillbarn Theatre, a renowned community theatre in Foster City, has revived the musical to close its 71st season. After 71 years, Hillbarn knows how to deliver the goods and The Producers is delightful. Director Bill Starr (himself a veteran of many Broadway performances) knows how to handle his cast of talented amateurs and choreographer Gary Stanford, Jr. does a clever job creating dances that entertain without overtaxing the company.

(from l to r) Dan Demers and Luke Chapman are Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in “The Producers”. Photo Credit: Hillbarn Theatre

The leads are all working at a professional level and featured professional Raymond J. Mendonca as Roger DeBris is excellent. His performance-within-a-performance as a comical Adolph Hitler leaves nothing to be desired.

Dan Demers is fine as Max Bialystock, and especially funny in the tour-de-force “Betrayed” musical number in which he retells the entire plot of the show.

Most impressive, however, is a knockout performance by Luke Chapman as Leo Bloom. Mr. Chapman is a Foster City native and graduate of the theatre program at UC Santa Barbara, on the verge of a successful career. He is the proverbial triple threat (singer, dancer and actor) and obviously ready to hit New York. The Bay area is lucky to have him.

Every true theatre lover should occasionally make a visit to a community theatre. Professional resumes aren’t everything. Where else will you see the likes of ensemble performer Kay (Kiki) Susanne Arnaudo who has performed or assisted (on a volunteer basis) in over 200 Hillbarn productions since 1964? You can’t beat that.

The Producers continues at Hillbarn Theatre through May 27. For further information, click here.

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“The Producers”, a musical by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan, produced by Hillbarn Theatre. Director: Bill Starr. Musical Director: Greg “Suds” Sudmeier. Choreographer: Gary Stanford, Jr. Set: Gary Wong. Lighting: Don Coluzzi. Costumes: Mae Heagerty-Matos and Shannon Maxham.

Max Bialystock: Dan Demers. Leo Bloom: Luke Chapman. Franz Liebkind: Ron Lopez, Jr. Carmen Ghia: Greg Lynch. Ulla: Kate Paul.

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