This week’s reviews will be taking you to two great theaters, first to an absolutely beautiful and practically new theatrical venue in Livermore, to introduce you to the magnificent Bankhead Theatre, which is currently presenting the outrageously funny musical comedy by Mel Brooks, “The Producers”. Second, we will be returning to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre once again, this time to experience a remarkably touching and heartfelt musical about love, longing, friendship, discovery and the fear of discovery. “The Girlfriend” explores what happens when two young men finally figure out why they haven’t fit in with their buddies, why they haven’t felt emotional experiences similar to the ones their friends describe for them, why they have always felt somewhat estranged from their male friends, and now for the first time, finding heartfelt love, with another man.

Melvin (Brooks) Kaminsky has long been known as a long standing comedy producer in the great storehouse of American comedy almost entirely by his stage name, Mel Brooks. Born to a German Jewish father and a Russian Jewish mother, a rather small and sickly child, Mel Kaminsky turned to playing the fool to survive his heckling schoolmates. As he gained confidence and an audience, Brooks, as he had become known on stage, started in show business as a stand-up comic. He did movie star impressions, told jokes and did a lot of pratfalls. It wasn’t long before he discovered that his real talent was off stage, writing scripts for other comedians. Then in 1949 his first big break came when he joined the team of Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin, and Carl Reiner, who wrote for Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Max Leibman on the first television comedy of its kind, the “Admiral Broadway Review”. From there he graduated to “Your Show of Shows”, then he created “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, then on to make movies, such as “Blazing Saddles”, “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein”. These shows were so successful that Brooks became unique as one of the few writer/producers in history to win and hold all four of the following great honors; an Emmy, a Grammy, the Oscar and a Tony Award.

The Producers was so successful as a movie, that Mel was encouraged to rewrite it for the stage, which he did, and in 2001, it was finally staged on Broadway starring Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick. The show ran for 2502 performances and won a record breaking 12 Tony Awards! The show has been a terrific success for regional theaters all across America and if you have never seen it, then now is the time to take that short drive to downtown Livermore and plan on an evening of absolute enjoyment.

The story centers around Max Bialystock (Jeff Seaberg), at one time a popular, highly successful Broadway producer, who has fallen on hard times and even harder creditors. His last production opened and closed on the same night, probably setting some kind of new record for short lived productions. While cowering in his office, seeking refuge from a number of creditors, Max reluctantly allows his bookkeeping company’s employee, Leo Bloom (Robert Lopez) , to direct some questions to him about some obviously overlooked bookkeeping errors. When Bloom realizes that Bialystock is not very well organized, he jokingly quips “you know, you could make more money with a planned flop, than a planned success!” Max picks up on this thought and it sets in motion his new plan to fleece as many investors as he can find in his attempt to strike it rich once again on Broadway!

Max knows a lot of little old ladies in New York with a lot of money that he can solicit for investments, but he knows that first he needs the accounting genius of Leo Bloom to pull it all together. Max begins to work on Leo, telling him that they would become full partners and co-exist as “The Producers”. The thought of going to prison, for criminal involvement in a scheme that produces more money in failure than in success, strikes fear deep in Leo’s milk-toast heart. Yet, the proposition made by Bialystock of allowing Bloom to actually become an integral part of a production team rings with remarkable clarity for Leo Bloom, who has for years harbored a secret passion of becoming involved in a Broadway show. The secret to pulling off a successful scam motivates Bialystock into finding the right “wrong” show, the money to produce it and the balls to carry it off!

Bialystock and Bloom form a partnership and set off in search for the worst show ever written. Finally, after days and nights of reading dozens of unproduced scripts, they find one that they believe will fill the bill perfectly, a thoroughly distasteful musical, one that is guaranteed to insult and offend absolutely everyone, a play written by an ex-Nazi, Franz Liebkind (Ben Krantz), entitled, “Springtime for Hitler.” This musical details a highly fanciful and upbeat examination of the “good side” of Adolf Hitler. Bialystock envisions a grand Busby Berkeley type musical romp set in the Austrian Alps countryside with scores of scantily clad milkmaids and uniformed “brown shirts” parading around a charismatic Hitler character, a Hitler with a song in his heart, a benevolent Hitler who will rule the world!

Bialystock proceeds to exchange romantic and sexual interludes with senior ladies for checks made out to a new musical, as he describes it, with its tentative working title of “CASH”.

In the process of preparing to cast the show, a drop-dead gorgeous Swedish blond arrives seeking the opportunity to be cast in the show. Bialystock wants to get Ulla Inga Tor Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson on the casting couch, but instead she ends up being hired to perform as a secretary. Ulla (played by Tiffany Davis) eventually finds a love interest with Leo Bloom.

Bialystock eventually over-sells shares in the production to the tune of about 2500 % of the show’s value. His final element in his prescription for a show that is guaranteed to fail is to hire the worse director known to Broadway, which in this case turns out to be Roger DeBris (Kenneth Blair), a flaming gay director whose shows often “close on the first day of rehearsal”.

When opening night arrives, the actor chosen to play the part of Hitler, does in fact “break his leg”, and the swishy director, Roger DeBris, steps in to assume the role. What is expected to be a total disaster completely backfires as the audience sees this lavish and hilarious comedic musical as an anti-Nazi spoof! The show receives rave reviews and Bloom and Bialystock now terrified of the financial consequences in producing a successful show, prepare to grab the money and run. As fate would have it, another unexpected turn of events thwarts their escape, but not completely.

Director John Maio has been very successful in finding a terrific cast, and in directing them to a very polished and perfected team. Jeff Seaberg is a wonderful comedian and outstanding actor whom I have had the privilege of knowing as a reviewer for over 20 years. I specifically remember him from a production entitled “Me and My Girl” at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts back when I first began reviewing shows. Robert Lopez is absolutely brilliant as Bloom, as is Ben Krantz who plays the deranged author of “Springtime for Hitler”, Franz Liebkind. Tiffany Davis is tall and beautiful and funny as the Swedish bombshell, Ulla. There are far more actors who deserve kudos, but I just do not have the space in this article.

“The Producers” is a very, very funny show in a wonderful venue that is easy to find at Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center in the Bankhead Theater, located at 2400 First Street in downtown Livermore. This show continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m, with Sunday performances at 2 p.m., now through May 9th. Tickets range in price between $25 and $35 ($33 for seniors) which may be purchased by phone at 373-6800 or by visiting their website at for more information. There is plenty of parking in a large public parking lot right next door to the theatre.

Berkeley Repertory Theater explores unconventional love, as it draws back a dark curtian in exposing the "Girlfriend".

Berkeley Repertory Theatre, long known for its magnificent attention to detail and perfection, its poignant and romantic and innovative musical tapestry, has once again turned its liberal eye toward engaging its audiences in invigorating discussions of pertinent social issues in its current production of “Girlfriend”.

When Matthew Sweet’s 1990’s musical album “Girlfriend” emerged it drew a respectfully large audience of devotees who played it again and again, shared it with friends and found themselves reflecting on their own experiences of love and longing, loves found and lost, and loves sought! Playwright Todd Almond was captivated by the wonderful lyrics and songs created by Sweet and decided to incorporate them into a modern story of love, of teen love.

Karen and I saw this show a week after our daughter and her cousin saw the show from which they came away excited, professing that this was truly one of the most enjoyable shows they have ever seen performed at Berkeley Repertory Theater. Knowing the quality of shows this theatre produces, and hearing these two young women (late 20’s) praising its story and its moving emotional energy, we were determined to see the show ourselves and we attended this past weekend and we were not disappointed.

The musical Mamma Mia, which is a musical that was created out of the music of the 70’s rock group ABBA, draws audiences primarily because the music is so memorable and infectious, not just because of a story that was fabricated to compliment and fit the lyrics. Much the same with this musical, Girlfriend, was first and foremost a romantic album with great diversity in lyrics and music that captivated the imagination and adoration of its many listeners. In similar fashion to Mamma Mia, playwright Todd Almond fell in love with the music and lyrics of Girlfriend and decided to write a story to fit the music as well.

Almond’s teenage love story takes us in a slightly different direction, in that the lovers are two young men, Will (Ryder Bach) and Mike (Jason Hite), who have just graduated from high school. The awkwardness, the insecurities; the naiveté and the passion are the same, as with any young lovers.

It is hard for me to imagine what life must be like for someone trapped in a particular role as prescribed by society when that role must not feel comfortable or real for them. My wife and I have been fortunate to have a broad spectrum of friends, a number of whom we have discovered were in homosexual relationships and were living very lovingly, just as my wife and I are, living a fulfilling life with their best friend and partner in life.

This remarkably well written story is about two young men from a small community in Nebraska, one, the typical sports jock with a deep love for music, on his way to medical school, and the other , the quiet student, interested in literature, art and music, with no set plans for the near future. While both boys grew up in the same community and attended the same schools, they never connected or took much notice of each other, as they traveled in different social circles. About the time their years in high school was ending, they suddenly connected in passing, not knowing what the other was thinking or feeling. After a period of extreme awkwardness and insecurity, they eventually became close friends and this is their story.

“Girlfriend” is chock full of humor, poignancy and wonderful music. The live band plays in a little alcove behind the actors on stage. The group consists of four women, Julie Wolf, Shelly Doty, Jean DuSablon and ieela Grant. While the show was supposed to end on May 9th, its extreme popularity has allowed the theater to extend its run one week longer.

Performances are held at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, on Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., through May 16th. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre is located at 2025 Addison Street in Berkeley and tickets may be secured by calling (510) 647-2949 or toll free by calling (888) 4-BRT-TIX or simply going online to the website at for more information or ticket purchases.