BWW Interviews: PRODUCERS Director Talks Comedy, Broadway Experience, Hillbarn Production
Broadway veteran Bill Starr directs Hillbarn Theatre's upcoming production of the Mel Brooks musical, The Producers, playing May 3-27. Below, Starr talks about how his own experience informed his direction of the show, what makes the show fun and unique, and what audiences can expect from Hillbarn's production.
Tell me about the show for those who haven't heard of it.
This show is about having a lemon and turning it into lemonade. Two Broadway producers realize that they can make a lot of money by producing a 'flop' instead of a hit and take all the remaining money for themselves until the show proves to be a 'hit.' That's when the drama/comedy begins.
What attracted you to this show?
Anything associated with Mel Brooks brings a smile to one's face, and you know you're going to be entertained. It's a 'feel good' type of show with outrageous comedy from the beginning to the end.
Everyone in the show wants something.... Max wants to regain his notoriety of being a successful producer, Leo wants to become something better in life, Ulla wants to be a 'star', Franz, the German writer, wants to defend Hitler, and Roger wants to be a famous director. They say "laughter is the best medicine,' so this show gives you plenty of medication!
The show has been on Broadway and been made into a movie. How does Hillbarn's production compare?
This show has been done a few times, but each time it is done everyone adds their creativity and imagination to it without interfering with the script. One has to stay true to the meaning of the script, and plus it is written so perfectly. Just do it for 'real' and the comedy comes from that.
How do you go about creating a new and unique experience?
One does this by the way each role is cast and by the way each member of the cast brings their individual talents to the project. Our production will be unique by those cast, the set designer, lighting designer, costume designer and musical director.
What are some specific treats and delights audiences can expect from Hillbarn's production?
If your doctor will give you a note stating that: "my patient is allowed to laugh for 2 hours straight by attending your performance," then you will leave entertained and definitely delighted that you came.
What is your background as a director? And what do you bring from that background to this production?
My background as a director is appearing in 15 original Broadway shows and bringing that experience and knowledge to this or any other production I do. My credits include:
- The Music Man - National Touring Company with Forrest Tucker
- Take Me Along with Jackie Gleason
- Unsinkable Molly Brown - Tammy Grimes
- All American (written by Mel Brooks) with Ray Bolger
- Drat The Cat - Leslie Ann Warren
- Superman - Jack Cassidy
- Fade Out, Fade In - Carol Burnett
- High Spirits - Bea Lillie
- The Night That Made America Famous - Harry Chapin
- Canterbury Tales - National Tour with Ray Walston
- Something More - Barbara Cook
- Nowhere To Go But Up - Martin Balsam
- A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum - revival with Phil Silvers
I have also been the recipient of a Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award as well as nominated for a Top Honors Award.lat year. A mutual friend suggested me to Hillbarn where I did "Oliver" for them. And then "How To Succeed" followed by "Gypsy" and last year "Drowsy Chaperone." Last year my production of Drowsy Chaperone was voted one of the top three productions in the Bay Area.
I was fortunate enough to work with icons in musical theater.... directors, choreographers, writers, and actors that I would watch and learn and I bring that experience and knowledge to any project I'm working on.
I've been around comedy all my life, so when it comes to "The Producers" I get to transfer all the 'schtick,' including the kitchen sink, into this show. It is a style of comedy that crosses between slapstick and vaudeville, and yet there are tender and heartfelt moments as well in the show.
Producers is a comedy. How does directing a comedy differ from directing a drama?
It doesn't! You still have to be true to the script and that determine which direction to go. The approach is the same being a comedy or a drama.
How do you maintain high energy and momentum in a show like Producers?
I'm a high energy person to begin with so I just transfer that energy to the cast of 32 who are some of the most talented people in the Bay Area.
Any behind the scenes secrets or tidbits you could reveal?
Warning: Be prepared to laugh, and then laugh louder, and laugh some more.