What’s a weekend without live theatre, right?* So even though we are on vacation, we found some theatre to see. In this case, it was Patio Playhouse‘s production of the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein” (or, to be precise, “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein“). The production was part of the “Plays in the Park” series, and was held in the amphitheatre at Kit Carson Park in Escondido (although the amphitheatre is 1,200 seats, not the 3,000 seats as claimed by the city). It was billed as the “Southern California Premiere” on the Patio Playhouse website, however, that is not true: The original tour hit Los Angeles in summer 2010, and Moonlight Prodctions in Vista is also doing the show (although the Moonlight version started after Patio’s version, so this could be the “San Diego Premier”). To Patio’s credit, Moonlight also claims it is the “Southern California professional premiere. I’ll note that this could be the Southern California region theatre premier (as the Pantages version was the tour). [*: Yes, we did see live theatre last weekend, even though I didn’t write it up — we went back to REP East Playhouse to see the closing night of “9 to 5 – The Musical“.]
“Young Frankenstein” (with book by Brooks (FB) and Thomas Mehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks) basically tells the same story as the movie version. You can find a writeup of the stage version on the Wiki page. The stage version elongates some scenes and musicalizes others, and does some slight rearrangement of the action. However, essentially, it is the film on stage, with more singing, dancing, and tits (although the tits were smaller (umm, that is, the tits were deemphasized) in Patio’s production). The stage production did not have the critical or box office success that Brooks’ first musical, “The Producers” — this could be because the property was better known and loved by the pubic, or because the stage was tired of Brooks’ humer. The more likely reason has to do with the book — by being faithful to the movie, they ended up with an overly long book (the first act is 90 minutes); and the love and fame for the property as well as Brooks’ involvement as a producer) prevented the stage developers from cutting and tightening the show. Still, the musicalized stage version of “Young Frankenstein” is quite enjoyable when done well. The Escondido audience we saw it with seemed to enjoy it, except for the few that walked out at the first mention of “tits”.
In general, the Patio Playhouse production of “Young Frankenstein” was reasonably good, especially when you consider it was community theatre (the Moonlight version in Vista was using professional actors; Patio had mostly community players). The lead performers were generally excellent, and the supporting ensemble did a good job. There were technical glitches, and the set was far from the standard of quality set by the touring version. Still, the production made for an enjoyable night — I’d tell you to go see it, but we caught the closing night.
One of the things that made the Patio Playhouse production shine was the strong casting of the leads — especially Tyler C. Jiles/FB as the lead. Jiles’ Frederick Frankenstein was an inspired piece of madness. His eyebrows, his facial expression, his movement — all combined to make this young man a strong and funny stage presence. Add to that the fact his strong singing, and Jiles made the part come alive. As I say with every show I right, I love actors that can inhabit their characters, and this man did.
Another strong performer was Sean Doughty/FB as Igor (pronounced “eye-gore”). Īgor was comic madness, with some incredible ad libbing that forced the other actors to work to keep a straight face. This came across best during his comic antics behind Frankenstein’s reading of “How I Did It”, but also shone at numerous other places in the show. You never knew what he was going to do; he seemed to be channeling Marty Feldman with a smaller hump. He also sang quite strongly, but his real forté was his comedy.
As Frankenstein’s comely lab assistant Inga, Jenna Wille was spectacular. She had a very strong singing voice, lovely looks, a wonderful facial expression. In short, she seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role, which (if you are familiar with my write ups) you know that I enjoy. I had two minor complaints with Wille’s performance: First, when dancing, she often painted on this odd smile (this was especially obvious in “Transylvania Mania”) — I’m sure this was the director or choreographer’s instructions, but I would have been much happier to see her real joy come across. [ETA: A comment later clarifies this odd smile was due to pain as she had sprained her ankle the week before… and “the show must go on”. Knowing that, I’m even more impressed with her performance, and it reminded me of the actress playing Claudia in the DOMA production of “Nine“.] Secondly, and again this is more likely the choice of the costumer than Wille, her outfit needed to emphasize her (to be blunt) tits more. It did a great job with her legs, but Mel Brooks likes to place the emphasis on the tits — and so it would have made the jokes even better. Then again, it looked like Patio is used to drawing the family audience, and the tits may have been toned down to not add insult to an already strong sexual innuendo (or is that inn-u-end-o) in the script).
The second tier was also very strong. As Frau Blücher (#insert <horse-rearing-sound-effect>), Kelli Harless/FB projected a wonderfully stern personality (that appeared not to be there in real life, as demonstrated when she broke character after the curtain call to thank the production staff). Again, a strong comic performance, joy in doing this role, and a strong singing voice (demonstrated in “He Was My Boyfriend”) made her fun to watch. Also strong was Lindsey O’Connor/FB‘s Elizabeth Benning. Although she had a costuming problem similar to Inga (again, in any Mel Brooks show, the tits must be played up), she gave a wonderfully strong comic performance and seemed to be delighting in the role — this was especially true in Act II and her numbers with the Monster. Speaking of the Monster, Donny Bronson/FB was (umm) very strong. He particularly shone in “Putting On The Ritz” and his subsequent interactions.
Turning to the third tier/ensemble, there are a few performances I’d like to comment upon. As Victor Frankenstein and a member of the ensemble, Robert Malave/FB had a look I found fascinating. If Patio Playhouse ever decides to do “The Addams Family – The Musical“, they should cast Malave as Gomez because he has the perfect look (and I’m sure, maniacal behavior). Rick Hernandez/FB gave a great performance as “The Hermit”, but he really needed dark sunglasses to pull off the blind look convincingly (yes, they are stereotypical, but this is Mel Brooks, who loves to play the stereotypes). Steve Bohnstedt’s Inspector Kemp was good but needed a bit more projection, plus the arm effects didn’t work out quite right (affecting the humor). Lastly, as Ziggy (the village idiot), John Rogers/FB had a wonderful idiotic look throughout, and was a delight to watch. Rounding out the cast, in various ensemble and singing positions, were Helen Brehm/FB (dancer/ensemble), Matthew Brehm (dancer/ensemble), Heidi Breuer (octet/ensemble), Candace Carbajal (FB) (dancer/ensemble), Linda Claudius/FB (octet/ensemble), Josalyn Dietrich/FB (dancer/ensemble), Connie Fischl/FB (octet/ensemble), Matt FitzGerald/FB (dancer/ensemble), Ali Robbins-Goddard/FB (dancer/octet/ensemble), Judy Gonsalves/FB (ensemble), Cathy Pence/FB (octet/ensemble), Jennifer Purviance/FB (octet/ensemble), Curtis Quay (Mr. Hilltop), Michaela Summers/FB (dancer/ensemble), Karen Tavares/FB (ensemble), Stephen Tavares (ensemble), Brenda Townsend/FB (octet/ensemble), Andre Urbano (dancer/ensemble), and Myra Zamora/FB (dancer/ensemble) . In general, the quality of the ensemble was mixed: about ⅔rds to ¾ths were strong and inhabited their roles quite well, but there were a few that just seemed to be focusing more on getting the steps right than having fun. [ETA: Again, this is not a complaint — it was actually quite good for a community production… rather it is more of a goal to work towards.]
The orchestra sat off to the side and provided reasonable sound. It was under the direction of Emily Awkerman (FB) (who was on the keyboards) and Christian Tordahl (conductor). The remaining members of the orchestra were Dan Townsend/FB (Percussion), Mike Mahoney/FB (French Horn), Taylor Ingalls/FB (Clarinet, Accordion), Sabrina Ingalls/FB (Clarinet), Steve Yee (Trumpet I), Ken Carstens (Trumpet II), Marcia Yee (Violin I), Bill Oakes (Trombone), J. D. Noland (Trombone), Debbie Olson (Flute, Piccolo), and Tim Knorr (Bass).
The production was directed by Mary Bright/FB and Richard Brousil/FB. Given that they were working with community-level performers and what I’m guessing was a low budget, they did a remarkable job. The performances, in general, were strong and believable (well, as much as anything can be believed in this show). Choreography was by Evelyn Lamden/FB, assisted by Candace Carbajal (FB). The dance, in general, was good. A number of the numbers needed a bit more precision (e.g., when tap dancing, the taps should be a single “bang”), but then again, this was community theatre. [ETA: Again, a comment noted that the stage at the Kit Carson was rather beat up, affecting both sound and movement.] There was also the issue of the painted on smile during dancing — I’d much rather see the dancers internal joy at the movement and fun. But, as I said, it was great for community theatre. Vocal direction was by Emily Awkerman (FB) and Cheryl Hernandez/FB.
Now to the technical. I’m coming to believe that the main distinguishing factor between community theatre and professional theatre is the quality of the sets. Professional theatre either has perfect sets or sets so simple that your imagination gives you the perfection. Community theatre attempts the realistic but doesn’t quite make it. The sets here were mostly flats with a rough-painted wall that worked good enough for the show. They didn’t compare to the quality of the national tour sets, but that’s not a surprise. However, the limitations of the sets did force some compromises based on the synopsis. I do applaud the use of the hidden hydraulic scissors lift to substitute for the lack of fly space. The set design was by Richard Brousil/FB, with props by Connie Fischl/FB. Georgette Fleuret‘s costume design worked well for the most part, modulo the problem I highlighted above (e.g., the ladies costumes needed to channel Mel Brooks and emphasize the tits). Makeup was by Shawna Greshik.
If there was one area the show had a problem, it was sound. The sound effects worked well, although there were occasional timing glitches. More problematic were the microphones that kept cutting in and out. I don’t know if this was a problem endemic to the facility, but the sound design by David Farlow/FB should have compensated better. The lighting design by Bryan Slothower/FB worked reasonably well. Technical design was by Bruce Blackwell/FB, Chris DeArmond/FB, Dan Townsend/FB, and David Farlow/FB. Mark Lansing was the special effects operator. Jen Ernst/FB was the stage manager. “Young Frankenstein” was produced by Brenda Townsend/FB.
[ETA: Seeing how well this company did with the problems they faced, I’d be intrigued to see one of their productions at their home “black box” stage. Alas, we live in Northridge (San Fernando Valley), and the drive to Escondido is a bit far for most shows (our usual southern extent is Chance Theatre in the Anaheim Hills. Perhaps on another visit to Escondido.]
Two last notes: First, although there names are not in the program, the two young ladies who did the raffle were delightful in their enthusiasm, stage presence, and general joy. They made losing the raffle worth the price of admission. Second, “boos” to those audience members who could not stay away from their cell phones for a 3 hour show, or who insisted in holding them up, screens lit, to take non-flash pictures. If you are in an audience, please remember that the light from a cellphone screen disturbs not only the actors, but the audience members seated around you. You can live without the phone for a few hours, and pictures are typically contractually prohibited during the show. Find your friends afterwards and take all the pictures you want.
Last night was the final performance of Patio Playhouse (FB)’s “Young Frankenstein“. Their next production is “Almost, Maine“, starting August 30. Based on the quality of this production, I’d recommend their productions to those that live in the area (alas, it is too long of a drive from the San Fernando Valley).
ETA: Lastly, some words about the venue. Kit Carson Park was easy to find and parking was a breeze. However, don’t get it confused with the Moonlight Amphitheatre — there is no real space for picnicing, and the wasps in the area are a bit aggressive (we had one who kept dive bombing us). There’s not much rake to the amphitheatre; we were lucking to get patio chairs upfront, as opposed to the normal benches. Bring a blanket to sit on, and be prepared for it to be a little cool after the sun goes down.
Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: This afternoon we’re going to another local show, “Coastal City Jazz Band with Andy Martin” in Carlsbad, CA. Theatre-wise, next Sunday brings Sarah Ruhl’s “In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play“ at the Production Company/Secret Rose (FB). After a break for the High Holy Day, theatre resumes with “The Vagina Monologues” on September 15th at REP East (FB), and we return to REP East (FB) for “God of Carnage” (September 28). October 5th brings “Breath and Imagination” at the Colony Theatre (FB), as well as the Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of “Kiss Me Kate” at the end of the month (October 26). November will start (hopefully) with “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at Actors Rep of Simi (FB), as well as ARTS’s Nottingham Village (FB) (a one-weekend ren-faire-ish market — tickets are now on sale). November will conclude with “Play It Again Sam” at REP East (FB) at the end of the month (November 23), and “Miracle on S. Division Street” at the Colony Theatre (FB). The fall should also bring a production of “Carrie – The Musical” (FB) by Transfer Theatre, but the specific dates have not been announced. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013/2014 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).