It’s Alive… and It Tap Dances… and You Should See Its Schwanstuker

Many people opine that Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks best movie. If not the best, certainly one of the best, together with “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers”. It is number 13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American movies. So, naturally, given the steamroller that “The Producers” was on Broadway, it is no surprise that “Young Frankenstein” was also mounted for the stage. The show is now on tour, and in Los Angeles for two weeks… so guess where we were this afternoon :-). [As a side note: According to Mel Brooks in today’s LA Times, he is toying with the notion of a Blazing Saddles musical]

That’s right: this afternoon we saw “Young Frankenstein… at the Pantages. This time, we saw downstairs in the back part of the Orchestra (row RR), and the sound was significantly better than when we saw “In The Heights” from the Balcony a month ago. I’m also pleased to report that the show was well executed and entertaining. The book (by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, based on the original screenplay by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder) was what you would expect from Mel Brooks: entertaining, silly, and filled with sexual double entendres. Lots of sexual double entendres. It is a very different comedy than “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”. If you want black and bloody comedy, go to the Taper. If you want your comedy light and silly, see “Young Frankenstein” when it comes to your town.

The story of “Young Frankenstein” is almost exactly the plot of the movie. If, by chance, you aren’t familiar with the movie: go see it!. If you can’t be bothered, rest assured it is a parody of Frankenstein horror movies with lots of sexual innuendo (in your what?) thrown in. The musical simply elogates and musicalizes some of the moments, and uses the music to provide character insights. Perhaps this is why YF was not the success on Broadway: the movie was too well known, and the musical too faithful to the movie. Although entertaining, it didn’t improve on the original (whereas The Producers did with some inspired bits of zaniness). But irrespective of the critics, I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

What makes this production is the casting: in particular, the leads. The cast features two of the New York original cast (Roger Bart and Cory English), and their talent shines through. As Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Frankensteen”), Roger Bart is simply comically inspired: playing to the crowd, playing to the character, and having that perfect comic timing that amplifies the humor of the writing. Bart’s foil is Cory English as Igor (pronouned “Eye-gore”), who equally plays to the audience and the character and amplifies the humor. These two actors take the piece from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary (although, watching Bart, I kept wondering what Johnny Galecki would do with the role). I really can’t put into words what these two brought to this show.

This is not to say that the other lead cast members were slackers. Far from it. You could see that these folks were just having fun with their characters, especially in each character’s signature numbers. I think my favorite of the bunch was Anne Horak as Inga, who was perfectly sexually playful in the number Roll In The Hay. Countering her, both as the love interest of Dr. Frankenstein as well as in a more tightly-wound sexual nature, was Beth Curry as Elizabeth. She had a much smaller role, but was fun to watch in Don’t Touch Me. As Frau Blucher <insert sound of horse’s rearing up in fear>, Joanna Glushak expresses both a terrifying nature and the repressed love for Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the song He Vas My Boyfriend. Lastly, as The Monster, Shuler Hensley doesn’t have much of a speaking role, but is a joy to watch in the signature number, Putting On The Ritz. Brad Oscar was Inspector Kemp and the Hermit, and was fun in the Please Send Me Someone number.

The ensemble rounds out this production. One thing I enjoy doing is pulling out my binoculars and watching the faces of the ensemble, and these folks were having fun. The ensemble consisted of Lawrence Alexander, Preston Truman Boyd, Jennifer Lee Crowl, Stacey Todd Holt, Matthew Brandon Hutchens, Sarah Lin Johnson, Melina Kalomas, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Kevin Ligon, Brittany Marcin, Christopher Ryan, Geo Seery, Lara Seibert, Jennifer Smith, and Matthew J. Vargo. All the actors are members of æ Actors Equity.

What distinguishes “Young Frankenstein” from the movie is the music and lyrics. The movie had a modicum of music; this show is filled with it. The songs (also by Mel Brooks) are not of the same quality as those of The Producers, but are still quite fun. Adding to the fun is Susan Stroman’s direction and choreography—you can always expect her to come up with interesting ways to do things (think the dancing old ladies in The Producers). I particularly liked how she handled the horses in Roll in the Hay. Steven Zweigbaum was the Associate Director, and Jeff Whiting was an Assistant Director and Choreographer. James Gray was also an Assistant Choreographer, and was a co-dance-captain, together with Kristin Marie Johnson. Musical Supervision was by Patrick S. Brady, with musical arrangements and supervision by Glen Kelly. Orchestrations were by Doug Besterman. Robert Billig was the Music Director and Conductor of the four member Orchestra (boy, they had great sound for a group that small!). John Miller was Music Coordinator.

The sets (designed by Robin Wagner) were extremely creative and incorporated all sorts of mad scientist stuff. Costumes were by William Ivey Long. The sound by Jonathan Deans did a reasonable job of overcoming the limitations of the Pantages, as well as providing great environmental effects. The lighting by Peter Kaczorowski made good use of strobes and moving lights, and conveyed the mood quite well while keeping the actors visible. Hair and wigs were by Paul Huntley, with makeup by Angelina Avallone. Joseph Sheridan was the Production Stage Manager, with Trinity Wheeler as Stage Manager and Scott Pegg as Assistant Stage Manager.

Young Frankenstein” continues at the Pantages until August 8, 2010. You can get tickets through Ticketmaster; you might find them on Goldstar. With respect to the Broadway LA 2010 season, there are only three shows of interest—two a strong “YES”, and one a maybe. The “YES” shows are Rock of Ages” (February 15-27, 2010) and Shrek: The Musical” (July 12-August 7, 2011), and the “Maybe” is the updated version of “West Side Story” (November 30-December 19, 2010).

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Next week is a busy week, theatre-wise. Wednesday night we’re going to the TADW production of “Seussical, followed by [title of show] at the Celebration Theatre on Friday, August 6 and “Speech and Debate” at the Secret Rose Theatre on Saturday, August 7. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, which will be the last production at the Steve Allen Theatre and features Adam Smith (Ian Buchanan), Chacko Vadaketh (Ghandi), T. B. Specified (Margaret Sanger), and Jack Maxwell (Steve Allen). August 21 brings the last 81 Series production: “Side Man” at REP East. Currently, the only show ticketed in September is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4. Pending ticketing is “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, Hottix on sale August 17), The Glass Menagerie at the Mark Taper Forum (September 1-October 17, Hottix on sale August 11), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16). It is unknown if there will be a September “Meeting of Minds”, and if so, when and where. The only show currently ticketed in October is “Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 30, but I’m sure some interesting productions will pop up. They always do.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.