With an iconic show like The Producers, you run the risk of certain celebrities having played the title roles to such a high standard that you really can’t imagine someone else doing them justice. There are certain people that were just born to play the roles. For some this was Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in the original movie, for me, whenever I see the production, I’ll admit, there’s no one like Nathan Lane as Bialystock. I always enter into a production unable to fully divorce myself from this expectation and I’m never convinced the actors are going to measure up to my personal gold standard. As it just so happens, I was able to throw out my theatrical prejudice within the first 5 minutes of Hillbarn’s production, as their Bialystock was a dead-ringer for Nathan Lane with regards to vocal emphasis and comic timing. It’s not an imitation and I’m not saying he wasn’t original, he totally was, but there are moments where I think our actor genuinely channeled Nathan and the results were undeniably Fantastic!
In fact, I’d have to say the entire cast, from top to “bottom” was polished and well-suited for their roles. The chemistry between the three leads Leo, Max and Ulla was definitely tight and even if you know a joke is coming they somehow managed to nail the landing with surprisingly spontaneous results. Franz, Roger and Carmen owned their performances before they even opened their mouths and I think as demanding as the show is for actors, they all appeared to be having a really good time, which benefits the show by providing an extra boost of positive energy.
Voices were strong all around, solid technically for the most part, confident throughout, pretty where they needed to be and hilariously accompanied by comedic variation when it was required. The sound quality overall was well above standard with only minor balance issues in the second half.
As far as recordings go (the music was recorded, there was no live band) it wasn’t bad. On the plus side you don’t have any balance issues within the orchestration and all the notes are played correctly. On the not as cool side, you aren’t allowed any real variation or style with regard to pacing and if you get off track at all, it’s up to the actor entirely to get back on track, no vamping to speak of. There were only a couple of places where this was a challenge on opening night, but generally minor offenses. My only real beef with this take was that the talent was so great, I really wish they’d been able to play with the songs a bit more and add more of their own vocal embellishments to the musical interpretation. Realistically though, there was nowhere to put an orchestra with all the set pieces, which brings us to… THE SET PIECES!?
WHERE DO YOU KEEP ALL THOSE SET PIECES?! It was a magic show of sorts with a hard-working ensemble who not only danced, acted and sung their hearts out, but were in charge on moving much of the scenery and props. Quadruple threats, indeed. I honestly don’t know where they put it all and I was genuinely impressed with the smooth transitions despite the huge number of locations. This is not a minimalist approach and they did not skimp on details for the sets which was in most cases a real treat for the relatively intimate theatre space.
Ideally, you’ll want to sit center or house left for the best views. I was far house right and along with some backstage sight line issues, two of my favorite site gags were totally obstructed, what I feel is a mostly unavoidable side-effect of the limited space and ridiculous size of this show.
Although the weather is warm outside (or maybe BECAUSE the weather is so warm outside) the AC was on and I happened to be sitting pretty much right under it. Bring layers and a coat JUST in case you get too chilly as they do have to keep the actors from melting and for those of us that run cold, it can get uncomfortable for the three hours of showtime, no matter how quickly the time flies as you are having fun.
This is an ambitious undertaking (understatement of the year) and the production is very admirable. The Producers is sure to entertain if it’s your first introduction to the show or your 10th time seeing it. A fabulous 4 out of 5 jewels in the Princess’ review tiara for a playful, well-balanced production that is just what the doctor ordered to lighten up your night or your afternoon! The Producers plays at the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City through May 27th.
**THEATRE FOOD PAIRING: I’m a big fan of Sushi. Like huge fan. I was craving some sushi in a big way the night I attended The Producers and so I specifically looked for a sushi place near by the theatre. Tokie’s is just a mile and a half from the stage, easy to find, lots of parking, and had good yelp reviews so I gave it a try. Go here. You must. Quick service, fresh fish, and some inventive combos I haven’t seen before. The Firecracker Roll (tempura tuna with spicy sauce) was the run away winner for me and they made a very, very respectable Caterpillar Roll (Unagi/eel and avocado) and a nice Spicy Hamachi roll. Gyoza are steamed and flavorful as well. The waiter actually thought I was ordering too much to eat just by myself, but I impressed him and stuffed it all down. I almost got a Firecracker Roll to go it was that great. There are plenty of options for the non-sushi eater as well and the vegetarian options are plentiful. I know where to go next time I’m at Hillbarn when I need a sushi fix!