PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Producers” Still Enthralls at Hillbarn

By Joanne Engelhardt

The astonishing thing about The Producers is that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, its inane characters, its music and its heart still catch you by surprise. Mel Brooks, writer of the book, music, and lyrics, is a legendary master of this kind of comedy.

Running at Foster City’s Hillbarn Theatre through May 14, this version has it all except for a live orchestra. Tall, leggy dancers? Check. A quivering, mousy Leo Bloom (James M. Jones)? Check. Over-the-top histrionics by John Mannion as Roger DeBris and his minion Carmen Ghia (a lively Jesse Cortez)? Double check.

YES!! This show has it all…

That’s not even before the tall, beauteous Renee DeWeese Moran walks in and does her thing as the astoundingly efficient Ulla. Announcing her entrance with a tiny curtsy, Ulla tells Max (a somewhat subdued Edward Hightower) that she came to “audition.” Watching her sing, dance and sashay around the office, flinging a leg straight up (and ending with the splits), Max and Leo hire her on the spot.

Ulla (center, Renee DeWeese Moran), while Max (left, Edward Hightower*) and Leo (right, James M. Jones) watch on with glee. *Denotes member of Actors Equity Association Photo by Tracy Martin

And that’s only a few of the many reasons not to miss this production. Keith Pinto is flawless as Franz Liebkind, the “playwright” who writes a Nazi musical called “Springtime for Hitler” and submits it to Max and Leo.

Max wants to produce a sure-fire flop and decides that “Springtime” is the ticket. He and Leo visit the would-be Nazi at his home, and Franz insists on taking them to see his pigeons.

He prances around cooing and oohing at his prized pigeons – a scene that’s funny in itself but even funnier thanks to the fact that the pigeons are actually puppets operated by Beth A. Wells and Andrew Victoria. They actually move! And coo! This reviewer can’t recall another production of The Producers that includes pigeon puppets!

Leo ( James M. Jones) dreams of being a producer on Broadway. Photo by Mark Kitaoka

There are oodles more memorable scenes including: –Watching a trembling Leo pull out what’s left of his little blue baby blanket, covering his face with it, patting off excess sweat with it, and clutching tightly so no one can take it away from him.

–Roger DeBris all dressed up for a big party event, in a gorgeous long shimmering gown of purple and silver. He’s so sure he’ll be the belle of the party until Max walks in and says he looks just like the Chrysler Building. Mannion, as DeBris is the picture of devastation.

–Who can forget the conga line of dancing grandmas? Max’s benefactors all get together to parade across the stage with their walkers. There’s “Kiss Me, Bite Me,” “Hold Me, Touch Me,” “Kiss Me, Feel Me” – and so many more!

(Lto R) Carmen Ghia (Jesse Cortez) and Roger DeBris (John Mannion) keep it gay. Photo by Tracy Martin

Director Erica Wyman-Abrahamson does a masterful job of keeping all this madness moving along quickly. Y. Sharon Peng deserves high marks for all the gorgeous costumes she’s created – the outfits worn by Ulla are terrific, as is the Nazi one Pinto wears. And then there’s the Ziegfeld Follies -type costumes some of the ensemble wear in the “Springtime for Hitler” parade.

There’s far more to admire in the Hillbarn’s production – including Kevin Davies’ scenic design. Not to be forgotten is Christopher Childers’ clever choreography, with dancers flying off one side of the stage, then suddenly walking down the steps in the audience to return to the stage. Did we mention tap? YES!! This show has it all.


Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: joanneengelhardt@comcast.net


ProductionThe Producers
Book byMel Brooks
Directed byErica Wyman-Abrahamson
Producing CompanyHillbarn Theatre
Production DatesThru May 14th
Production Address1285 E Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404
Telephone(659) 349-6411
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!