Starr Shines at Hillbarn

A local cast of performers will star in "The Producers," which opens Friday at Foster City's Hillbarn Theatre.


During the peak of his acting career, Bill Starr the actor performed in Broadway shows with Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett  and Kevin Kline.

Bill Star the director is now focused on the development a fresh young crop of budding actors.

"Being around comics, actors and directors with that kind of talent, I was very fortunate to be in that company when I was learning my craft," Starr said. "Now I have the opportunity to spread it and to share it."

Starting this later week, Starr will share it with audiences in Foster City.

The San Francisco-born theater guru will direct Mel Brooks' Tony Award winning musical comedy, "The Producers," which opens Friday at 8 p.m. at for the first of 15 performances this month. A preview is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. The finale is May 27.

The Producers, which won a record 12 Tony awards in 2001, depicts the misadventures of a shady producer (Max Bialystock) who along with his accountant scheme to profit from what they expect to be a disastrous flop when they put on "Springtime for Hitler." The plan blows up in their faces, however, when the play becomes wildly successful.

Directing the cast of 32 and a staff of 15 to make a production such as this work is a role Starr is uniquely suited for, Hillbarn spokesman Dan Meagher said.

"(Starr) brings years of creativity and artistry starting with his work as a performer back on Broadway to knowing how to handle actors and technicians and sound people and everything else to make a truly wonderful production," Meagher said.

Starr appeared in about 15 Broadway shows in the 1970s and 80s including "The Music Man," " The Unsinkable Molly Brown,"  "Take Me Along."

His memories of working alongside some legendary performers, however, remains vivid. He describes Gleason as a "very interesting person."

"He was very quiet in rehearsals," Starr said. "He would come in and rehearse and leave right afterwards, yet at Christmas he gave everyone gold cufflinks that had clocks in them. He was thoughtful but very private."

Of Burnett, he says "she's just as you'd expect her to be. Warm, loveable, funny."

Starr views imparting what he's learned from his career as a Broadway performer beyond a traditional mentorship role. He considers it part of a personal mission to do what he can to preserve the institution or theater, an admittedly Sisyphean task in the age of Netflix and Blu-ray.

"There's a connection with the actors in live theater that you don't get on TV or on DVD's," Starr said.

"Live theater will be dinosaur if we let it be."

But the two months of preparation and rehearsals for The Producers offers Starr some hope that theater can somehow survive the digital age. He ranks the talent on all aspects of this production tops among the 100 or so performances he's produced in the Bay Area over the last 20 years.

"You have to have the people behind the scenes who know how to make comedy work, and he really inspires performers to be their best," Meagher said. "It's always a joy and a thrill to see what the end outcomes of his productions are."

The Producers cast features Luke Chapman of Redwood City as Leo Bloom, Dan Demers (San Mateo) as Max Bialystock, Ron Lopez Jr. (San Carlos) as Fraz Libkind, Greg Lynch as Carmen Ghia, Raymond J Mendonca as Roger DeBris, and Kate Paul. 

An ensemble depicting prisoner, storm-troopers, and little old ladies features Kathryn Aarons, Karen Althoff, Paul Amornkul, Kay "Kiki" Arnaudo, Darrell Batchelder, Dale Brewer, Samantha Brewer, Jennifer Butler, Alyson Chilton, Melody Cole, Maggie Ek, Alexa Fallon, Gary Gerber, Sara Faye Goldrath, Joyce Jacobson, Stacey Kennedy, Robert Konopka, Amnon Levy, Rebecca Mayfield, Claudia McCarley, Martha McDowell, Jeff Moon, and Christina Murdock.

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