THE PRODUCERS at Hillbarn a hot ticket TENDERLOIN by Cutting Ball Theater is dynamic

THE PRODUCERS: Musical Comedy. Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan. Directed by Bill Starr and musical direction by Greg “Suds” Sudmeier. Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Blvd in Foster City.  650-349-6411 or visit May 4 – 27, 2012

The Hillbarn Theatre group ends its 71st season with a rip-roaring production of The Producers that earned a standing ovation at opening night. It surely will be the hottest ticket in the Bay Area during its 3 week run despite the fact that the running time is two hours and 40 minutes, including the intermission. From the reaction of this reviewer’s guest and a majority of the audience the time seemed to fly by proving Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of relative time.

The musical is based on the 88 minute 1968 movie that won an Oscar for Mel Brooks and with the help of one of my college classmates (Thomas Meehan) converted it into the smash musical that garnered 12 Tony Awards in 2001. This was followed in 2005 movie that kept the Broadway stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, in the lead roles.

Who would believe that a story about “creative accounting” (read ‘crooked accounting’) could be the subject for hilarious comedy? You had better believe and if you need proof head over to Hillbarn for verification.

Once great theatrical producer Max Bialystock (Dan Demers) has just had his umpteenth flop and he meets meek, mild mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Luke Chapman) whose biggest ambition is to be a producer offhandedly suggests a flop could make more money than a hit. Together they plan to produce the biggest flop possible with a musical Springtime for Hitler, written by neo-nazi Fraz Libkind (Ron Lopez, Jr.). To further assure failure they hire the flaming no talent queen Roger Debris (Raymond J. Mendonca) along with the love of his life Carmen Ghia [don’t you love the name] (Greg Lynch) to direct the show. Sex enters into the equation with Max servicing all the old rich ladies and Leo falling in love with tall seductive Swedish lass Ulla (Kate Paul) who sizzles with show stopping "When You've Got It, Flaunt It." Alas the best laid plans often go awry and their masterpiece failure turns out to be a smash hit.

One wonders where Hillbarn gets all the marvelous talent to fill out the remainder of the cast and perform ensemble numbers to die for. Choreographer Gary Stanford Jr. almost steals the show from the major cast members with his energetic staging. He even throws in a couple of acrobatic tumblers to bring grasps from the audience. The “Springtime for Hitler” tap dancing number is marvelously ghastly. The costumes are indescribably stupendously garish.

But even with all the accolades deserved by the ensemble, the chemistry between Dan Demeer and Luke Chapman shines through and deserve a Bay Area Critics Circle Award for their fine acting (and mugging).  No one upstages Ron Lopez Jr. and he dominates the stage with his perfect Franz Liebkind forcing Demeer and Chapman to stand and watch before joining him in dance.  Raymond J. Mendonca (the only equity member) nearly walks off with the show as the universe's gayest, and least talented, stage director.

Hillbarn’s The Producers is highly recommended even for the lady from Dubuque.
Kedar K. Adour, MD

(Below)Theater documentarians (l-r Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank,Tristan Cunningham, and Michael Uy Kelly) portray residents encountered on the street in Cutting Ball Theater’s World Premiere of Tenderloin

(Above) Filipino Health and Wellness Director Ester Aure (actress Tristan Cunningham) gives a motivational talk in Cutting Ball Theater’s World Premiere of Tenderloin

TENDERLOIN by Cutting Ball Theater is dynamic.

TENDERLOIN: Docudrama World Premiere Theatrical Piece.Directed and written by Annie Elias with input from multiple cast members and additional writing by David Westley Skillman. Cutting Ball Theater in residence at EXIT on Taylor (277 Taylor Street) in San Francisco. 415-525-1205or April 27 – May 27, 2012

The Cutting Ball Theatre is the leading avant-garde group in the Bay Area dedicated to experimental new plays and re-visioned classics. Their present stunning production of Tenderloin began as part of “Risk is This: The Cutting Ball’s New Experimental Plays Festival.” It is a dramatized series of interviews that were conducted by the actors who are now playing those they interviewed. From their audio recordings, no video allowed, each actor has recreated the denizen(s) they personally interviewed.The result is a theatrical gem that surely will be a sell out but is not fully satisfying.

When you enter the intimate performing space you are confronted by a floor to ceiling jumble of sofas, chairs tables and personal items that reflect the jungle that is outside the doors of the theater located at the fringe of the Tenderloin District. With a brilliant but simple directorial device each cast member invades the acting space, discards their own shoes and symbolically dons the shoes of their characters. From that point on they truly become those characters in physical mannerisms and speech patterns. It is all very remarkable and riveting.

The boundaries of the area of San Francisco referred to as the Tenderloin are at best nebulous but are defined by its plethora of single room occupancy (SRO)hotels. Most of the characters in this docudrama fit the mold of SRO residents. However they are not the only ones interviewed. Late in the second act the Tenderloin inhabitants share the stage with a police officer, Ministers of Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony’s food Kitchen and politicians thus attempting to give a moralistic slant to the plight of the disenfranchised. It does not quite work.

The influence of Tectonic Theatre's The Laramie Project , in technique and writing is transparent and Cutting Ball’s production compares favorably but does not have the dramatic impact of that docudrama. However, the cast’s complete submergence into their roles is remarkable. The interview subjects include elders, children, homeless, drug addicts (recovered), transgenders,street cleaners, artists and immigrants.

The evening is book-ended by associate artist David Sinaiko as the narrator as he becomes Mark Ellinger, a former drug addict, who is the de-facto historian of the Tenderloin. A few of Ellinger’s photographs are suspended from the ceiling creating a striking addition to the mound of furniture.

As dramatic as the setting is, it does not detract from the superb performance of the six cast members that includes documentarians Tristan Cunningham, Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Uy Kelly, Leigh Shaw, and David Sinaiko. Each has a turn in the spotlight and all intermingle like a fine oiled machine earning a spontaneous standing ovation. Running time about 2 hours with an intermission.
KedarK. Adour, MD