When the very first Broadway musical for which you write book, music, and lyrics wins a record-breaking twelve Tony awards and runs for over 2500 performances, what do you do for an encore?

If you’re Mel Brooks, your follow-up to The Producers is Young Frankenstein, and though the comic master’s sophomore musical ran less than 500 performances, it’s nonetheless a tuneful, laugh-filled treat for Brooks fans and horror buffs alike.


Young Frankenstein tells the musical tale of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who, upon receiving news that he has inherited his mad scientist grandfather’s estate, leaves his prestigious position as Dean Of Anatomy at New York’s Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine to travel to mysterious Eastern Europe. Though unhappy to leave his “Please Don’t Touch Me” fiancée Elizabeth, Dr. “Fronkensteen” (that’s how he pronounces it) heads off to Transylvania Heights where he is greeted by a hunchback named Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), a nubile blonde lab assistant named Inga, and the sinister Frau Bucher, whose very name inspires fear in the hearts of men and horses. Despite his initial reservations, Frederick soon decides to continue his grandfather’s legacy by reanimating the dead, resulting in the return to life of a seven-foot, green-faced creature known only as The Monster.

Young Frankenstein The Musical recreates Young Frankenstein The Movie’s most memorable sequences, including the classic “Put… the candle… back!” scene, The Monster’s ill-fated encounter with a blind hermit named Harold (itself inspired by the original 1931 Boris Karloff flick), and the top-hat-and-tails musical extravaganza “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” The latter tune, by Irving Berlin, is the only one Brooks didn’t write for Young Frankenstein. As for the eighteen or so he did write, they are a tuneful, catchy, lyrically clever bunch, no small feat for any Broadway songwriter let alone one who started writing songs for Broadway in his early seventies. (Brooks was a youthful 81 when Young Frankenstein opened on Broadway.)


Like The Producers, Brooks’ second attempt at Broadway musical smashdom benefits enormously from the razor-sharp direction and inventive choreography of Susan Stroman, with bouncy production numbers aplenty, including the show opener “The Happiest Town” (which has the residents of Transylvania Heights celebrating Grandpa Frankenstein’s demise), “Please Don’t Touch Me” (featuring some very funny ballroom dancing sans body contact), “Join The Family Business” (with Frederick cavorting with his dead ancestors), and the wild and wacky “Transylvania Mania.” (And that’s just Act One.)

Following its recent two-week run at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre and just prior to its opening at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Young Frankenstein tour took a three week rehearsal break, during which an almost entirely new cast took over the musical’s multiple character ensemble roles and a number of lead roles as well. Christopher Ryan (Frederick) and Preston Truman Boyd (The Monster) were promoted from understudy to star, and both acquit themselves with flying colors at OCPAC, Ryan a delight as the sophisticated yet quirky Frankenstein heir and Boyd matching him every step of the way, particularly when The Monster turns song-and-dance man in Act Two.

Remaining with the tour are Cory English (Igor) and Joanna Glushak (Frau Blucher), and not surprisingly both are performance standouts (and consummate scene stealers). Igor may have been originated on screen by the inimitable Marty Feldman, but English makes the part entirely his own, and funny as all get-out. Glushak, a StageSceneLA favorite, once again vanishes inside a larger-than-life character, Frau Bucher’s unexpected torch song “He Vas My Boyfriend” earning Glushak laughs galore and deserved cheers.

Completing the show’s lead roles are new-to-the-tour Janine Divita (divinely hilarious as Elizabeth, no more so than when belting out “Deep Love”), Synthia Link (a saucy Germanic treat as Inga), and David Benoit (terrific as both artificial-limbed Inspector Kemp and later, unrecognizably, as the Hermit, a part played by Brooks himself in the movie).

As in The Producers, each ensemble member assumes multiple “tracks” and does so to perfection. They are triple-threats Noah Aberlin, Purdie Baumann, Erin Wegner Brooks, Don Daniels (a deliciously dippy village idiot Ziggy), Billy Griffin, Allison Paige Henning, Danielle Kelsey, Matthew Warner Kiernan, Dionna Thomas Littleton, Eric Jon Mahlum, Jillian Owens, “Puttin’ On The Ritz” specialty dancer Alex Puette, Dave Schoonover (The Count), Erick R. Walck, Marguerite Willbanks, and swings Leah Hoffmann, Kristin Marie Johnson, Beau Landry, and Matthew J. Vargo.

Robert Billig leads the splendid Young Frankenstein orchestra. Robin Wagner’s suitably creepy scenery, William Ivey Long’s varied bevy of costumes, Jonathan Deans’ chills-and-laughter-inducing sound design, and Paul Huntley’s period/horror genre wigs and hair design are the quality work one expects from a Broadway National Tour, with special snaps due the spectacular strobe effects of Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design.

If Young Frankenstein turns out not to be quite the crowd-pleaser that The Producers has been, it is nonetheless well worth the Mel Brooks name. Filled with music, dance, laughs, and more gags and double entendres than any show since, well since The Producers, Young Frankenstein is a crowd-pleaser from start to finish.

Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
–Steven Stanley
September 14, 2010
Photos: Paul Kolnik

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