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Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Bob Anderson) tells a the crowd outside the theater about how he used to be "The King of Old Broadway," in "The Producers," which opens Friday at Stars Theatre Restaurant.

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From left, Jason Theiste, Loren Barton, Paul Barton and Joe Ash have joined forces to create a fundraising CD with the proceeds to be used to fight human sex trafficking.

Often the source for a popular movie is an adaptation of a hit Broadway show; but the stage version of "The Producers" turns that formula on its head.

Mel Brooks wrote the screenplay for the 1968 film of the same name and then, 33 years later, adapted it for a musical comedy that ran on Broadway from 2001 to 2007.

Stars' production of the updated 2001 version of "The Producers" opens Friday at the downtown theater, with Sheryl Cleveland as director.

"The entire show is Mel Brooks at his finest with his signature in-your-face comedy," Cleveland said. "Personally, I like the touching moments among the laughter that are sprinkled throughout the script."

Its core is a scheme developed by two down-on-their luck theatrical producers, played by Bob Anderson and Zachary Gonzalez, who figure it's easier to get rich from a flop that closes on opening night than a successful show.

To fund their enterprise, they tap the checkbooks of stage-struck "little old ladies." Chief among them is an aging actress known only as a line from a play "Hold Me -- Touch Me," played by Virginia Lenneman.

After sorting through a mountain of scripts, the erstwhile producers find one that's a parody on the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, which they gleefully decide is the worst play they've ever seen. They then secure "the worst director in town," portrayed by Kevin McDonald.

In addition to plenty of show business jokes, "The Producers" includes a number of song and dance routines.

"If I had to choose, one of the biggest moments in the show is 'Little Old Lady Land,' complete with walker choreography," Cleveland said. "The other spectacle is 'Springtime for Hitler,' the first musical done by our producers."

Bethany Rowlee, who's had top billing in many Stars shows, appears as Ulla, a Swedish sexpot who lands a job as the producers' secretary.

Shay Burke has the part of Franz Liebkind, an eccentric playwright, and Kyle Gaines appears as Carmen Ghia.

Performances of "The Producers" continue at Stars through Feb. 7.

Arts Council grants

Applications for grants awarded annually by the Arts Council of Kern are due at 5 p.m. Friday.

Money for the grants comes from a portion of the $100,000 given to the Arts Council by the Kern County Board of Supervisors last August.

"We will award grants for up to $1,500; the number of grants will depend on number of applicants," said Taren Alexander, manager of the council's office. "We are looking for inspirational projects in all arts disciplines from all manner of organizations and individuals in Kern County."

Guidelines, which appear on the organization's website, kernarts.org, note that preference will be given to innovative arts programming, especially in underserved and underfunded areas of the county.

Bartons' fundraising CD

In a recent phone conversation, bluegrass musician Paul Barton told me how he came up with the idea of raising money to fight human sex trafficking.

"I first heard about it four or five years ago and it just tore me up -- it's so horrendous," said Barton, 38, the father of two sons and a daughter. "I got this vision last year to take our music and help children."

As a result, the mandolin player and his brother, guitarist Loren Barton, 34, are attempting to raise $13,000 to finish an album and prepare it for sale. Joining the brothers are their friends and former bandmates Jeff Pekareck on acoustic bass and fiddler Christian Ward.

The album is now in its final stage of recording, Barton said. The next phase is the editing and mixing, followed by mastering. The design and artwork will come next and then, finally, the pressing of the record.

"Once this album is complete," he said, "we are donating 100 percent of the sales to nonprofits who will use the funds to help rescue children who are caught in trafficking and exploitation, both in the U.S. and abroad."

In the meantime, the musician and his wife are in the process of forming their own nonprofit organization. Dedicated to creating awareness about the issue, it's called Selah's River and is named for their daughter.

Details of their project can be found at indiegogo.com/projects/new-brothers-barton-album/x/5404634/. Incentives for donations of $10-$5,500 include prizes ranging from signed CDs to cupcakes, T-shirts, hoodies and private performances. However the top category, $5,500 for a custom-made guitar built by Loren Barton, has already been spoken for by a Shafter farmer who is a friend and fan of the brothers.

One treat you can get for free is available by visiting their indiegogo website. In addition to details about the project, you can view two videos in which the brothers play some of the songs they've written and talk about their homespun upbringing, first Lamont and later in the mountains northeast of Redding.

"We never had any TVs or radios," Paul said. "Every time we got one my mom would throw it off the front porch -- she wasn't raised with TV; she thought it was evil. Dad taught us to play and he had records and tapes we listened to."

Ultimately, both brothers graduated from South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. Their album-in-progress will be their fourth since 1998.

'The Lion King'

I had the pleasure of seeing "The Lion King" last Saturday at the elegant Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I traveled with a group headed by a teacher at College Heights Elementary School.

Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a fascinating example of excellent choreography combined with exquisite costumes and puppetry propelled by humans, some visible, others invisible. Everything from repulsive hyenas to stately giraffes.

Performances at the Pantages ended last Sunday and I doubt we'll ever see the show done by amateur theater groups in Bakersfield. As produced by Disney, it's simply too complex to reproduce in terms of the innovative mechanics, elaborate makeup, sound effects and lighting that went into the overall production.

But I suspect "The Lion King" will continue to be performed on tour throughout the world. So if the opportunity arises in the future, I urge you to get tickets. You won't be disappointed.