Review: ‘The Producers’ at Hillbarn Theatre and Conservatory (****)

L to R: Leo Bloom (James M. Jones) and Max Bialystock (Edward Hightower) in “The Producers.” Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

by Otto Coelho

Lately I’ve seen theatre that just didn’t do it for me. Whether the pacing was off or performers just weren’t up to the task, things just didn’t “click,” and one finds themselves checking their watch multiple times. Sometimes one small element can prevent what I call the magic-making of theatre.

This is certainly not the case in Hillbarn Theatre and Conservatory’s splendid production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”  I will say at the outset that my preference is for the music in a musical to be played live, rather than a prerecorded musical track. The cast, however, works seamlessly with the track, and the performances rise above my old school preferences.

Heading up the terrific cast is Edward Hightower, who is great as failed, desperate Broadway producer Max Bialystock, and his performance is met – and in some scenes outshone – by the outstandingly nebbishy  James M. Jones as Leo Bloom. Simply marvelous performances from both of them As their secretary-slash-receptionist and later leading lady Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Svenson (I’m not kidding), Renee Deweese Moran embodies everything you need in the role – charm, a certain innocence mixed with a generous helping of non-innocence and statuesque grace. Keith Pinto is brilliantly hilarious as Nazi playwright Franz LIebkind. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Mr. Pinto perform, and I’ve yet to see him give a performance that isn’t nuanced and brilliant. As quirky theatre director Roger DeBris, John Mannion keeps it wonderfully light, bright, and…well…you know.  Jesse Cortez is hilarious as Roger’s assistant, Carmen Ghia. And I can’t talk about performances without mentioning the fantastic ensemble – especially the fabulous ladies who “love Bialy.”

Erica Wyman-Abrahamson leads this cast as skillfully as she did with last year’s sensational “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” here at the Hillbarn. “The Producers” is meant for a much bigger stage, but Ms. Wyman-Abrahamson makes such good use of the space and Kevin Davies’ terrific sets that we can’t really tell. Music Director Rick Reynolds gets all voices to blend and harmonize to perfection. Christopher Childers’ choreography is spot on. When you add in the solid lighting design by Pamela Grey and lovely wigs and costumes by Y. Sharon Peng, all of the technical elements come together for a wonderful piece of theatre.

Wherever you are in the Bay Area, get yourself to the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City to see “The Producers.” You will not want to even think of your watch, and the alchemists there guarantee that magic happens on that stage – and don’t we all deserve a little magic?

“The Producers” continues through May 14th at the Hillbarn Theatre Company. For more information, click here.

Rating: **** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)


“The Producers” Book, Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks. Produced by Hillbarn Theatre and Conservatory. Director: Erica Wyman-Abrahamson. Music Director: Rick Reynolds. Choreographer: Christopher Childers. Scenic Design:  Kevin Davies. Lighting Design: Pamela Grey. Sound Design: Sheraj Ragoobeer. Properties Design: Rosie Issel. Costumes and Wig Design: Y. Sharon Peng


Mas Bialystock: Edward Hightower. Leo Bloom: James M. Jones. Franz Liebkind: Keith Pinto. Roger DeBris: John Mannion. Carmen Ghia: Jesse Cortez. Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Svenson: Renee Deweese Moran. Ensemble: Karen Althoff, Christine Baker, Allyson Chilton, Ashley Faus, Mohamed Ismail, David Issel, Riffany Jianto, Kayvon Kordestani, Reggie Reynolds, Steve Roma, Elana Ron, Jon Steely, David Truong, Jessica Whittemore.

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