Here's the drill: A play hits it big on Broadway, runs practically forever, and then a couple of official touring companies are formed to send the blockbuster to the best houses in Big-City-Name-Goes-Here, U.S.A. Some years later, regional theaters are offered the opportunity to purchase rights to the production; a discrete period of time after that, the community theaters get their shot at the golden goose that's guaranteed, as they say in the biz, to put fannies in seats.
Right now, The Producers is on its grand tour of the provinces. In the spring of 2009, Diablo Theatre Company in Walnut Creek staged its version of the musical. This fall, South Bay Musical Theatre in Saratoga takes its turn. In between, through August 16, 2009, Foothill Musical Theatre in Los Altos Hills is having its way with the story of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, the crooked producers who do everything in their power to create a sure-fire flop, only to have it succeed beyond their wildest nightmares.
Director Jay Manley does a great job with his cast of thousands, from the walker-clutching drill-team of little-old ladies to the choir of Whitehall & Marks accountants, with some Village People and a terrific fiddler (Kevin Stanford) thrown in for good measure. The set changes in Foothill College's Smithwick Theatre are crisp and economical, disguised by the liberal use of scrim and song-and-dance numbers that finish up on the platform between the first row of seats and the orchestra pit.
For the most part, the supporting actors, the ensemble, and the production itself are the show's strongest assets -- I'm told the hilarious Bavaria-meets-Vegas showgirl costumes are previews of the upcoming production in Saratoga. As the flaming director Roger DeBris, Ray Joseph does a fine job on "Keep It Gay," but he's even better as the Fuhrer during the company's rousing, tap-dancing rendition of "Springtime for Hitler." Sean Patrick Murtagh is also good as DeBris's sycophantic assistant Carmen Ghia, who just wants Roger to publically accept his love.
Another pair of actors whose performances are worth the price of admission are Ken Boswell as the play-within-the-musical's Nazi author, Franz Liebkind, and Brittany Ogle, whose duties as a leggy Ulla include a reclining backflip off a table -- in high heels.
That's a good example of the high-spirited energy level given by the cast to its production. As Leo Bloom, Tim Reynolds drives himself every bit as hard. He sings his parts so well that during the courtroom scene, when Max remarks on the fine quality of his by-then former partner's singing voice, I realized I had been thinking the exact same thing. But even though his character is written as a hysteric, it sometimes felt like Reynolds went to that corner of Bloom's persona a bit too quickly.
Least effective, but hardly irredeemable, is Gary DeMattei's Max. He hits his marks, doesn't shy away from the physical, and gives a performance that is happily loud and outlandish. But his Bialystock always seems to be looking ahead to the next crossover, the next gag, causing his timing to miss and his performance to feel oddly flat.
The Foothill Musical Theatre production of The Producers runs through August 16, 2009 at the Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. For more information, visit foothillmusicals.org.