Musical Theatre West opens its 61st consecutive season with a sensational remounting of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, one of the few musicals you can feel safe in inviting even your most Broadway-musical-phobic friends to for a monstrous good time.

6758 Movie fans will recall Young Frankenstein as Brooks’ 1974 hit follow-up to Blazing Saddles (released the very same year). Young Frankenstein The Musical is Brooks’ 2007 follow-up to his mega-smash The Producers, and though the comic master’s sophomore musical ran less than 500 performances (compared to The Producers’ 2500+), it proves a tuneful, laugh-filled treat for Brooks fans and horror buffs alike, particularly with Lauren Kadel remounting Stroman’s Tony-winning original direction and choreography to razor-sharp perfection.

7044 Young Frankenstein tells the musical tale of renowned brain surgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Zachary Ford), 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 sad to leave his “Please Don’t Touch Me” fiancée Elizabeth (Rebecca Ann Johnson), 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 (Ben Liebert), a nubile blonde lab assistant named Inga (Andi Davis), and the sinister Frau Bucher (Tracy Lore), whose very name inspires fear in the hearts of men and horses, but particularly of horses.

Despite his initial reservations, Frederick soon makes a life-changing decision—to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and reanimate the dead, the result of which is the return to life of a seven-foot, green-faced creature known only as The Monster (Danny Blaylock).

7703 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.)

This being Mel Brooks, audiences can expect plenty of double entendres (or simply downright dirty jokes)—and thank the gods of the risqué for that. After all, when was the last Broadway show in which you heard a chorus of female voices harmonizing to “Don’t dare to touch our tits. Don’t touch our tits. Don’t touch our tits. Don’t touch our tits, tits, tits, tits, tits, tits, tits, tits, tits!” Or heard lines like: “Victor won the three-legged race … all by himself.” Or heard a woman declaring in song, “Now I will keep love deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper forever inside! Forever inside!”

6495 Like The Producers, Brooks’ second attempt at Broadway musical smashdom benefits enormously from Stroman’s creative vision, 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.)

7573 Popular SoCal musical theater leading man Ford gives Dr. Frederick Frankenstein just the right 1930s look and style to make you believe he’s returned to earth from horror movie heaven, in addition to the triple-threat’s terrific comedic chops, vocals, and footwork.

The same can be said for Ford’s costars, a mix of Southern California favorites and quite a few newcomers, all of them doing Broadway-caliber work.

New York visitor Liebert is hysterically funny as Frederick’s bright-and-bug-eyed, ever faithful Igor, and like the hunchback’s ever-moving dorsal protuberance, steals scenes left, right, and center.

As Frau Blucher, the divine Lore recreates the role she played just two months ago at Moonlight Stages, and is even funnier this time round (if such a thing is possible), her Marlene Dietrich-esque “He Vas My Boyfriend” proving as great a showcase as Lore has ever had for her one-of-a-kind talents.

7185  Johnson simply couldn’t be more fabulous as madcap “me” girl Elizabeth, and her rendition of “Deep Love” will have you laughing and cheering in equal measure.

7107 Davis makes an absolutely sensational L.A. debut as luscious, leggy Inga, investing the roll with equal parts sweetness, sauciness, and sex-appeal. (Expect to be seeing much more from recent college grad Davis.)

Blaylock’s magnificent Monster doesn’t appear till Act Two, but when he does, Young Frankenstein takes off to even greater heights of hilarity, and never more so than when Blaylock joins Ford, Davis, Liebert, Lore, and the rest of the cast in the toe-tapping show-stopper that is Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”

7334 Jeffrey Rockwell is splendid as always in a pair of roles, as Inspector Kemp (who inspires a number of outrageous “arm and a leg” gags) and even more so as the blind Hermit, whose prayer to “Please Send Me Someone” gets answered in hilariously unexpected ways.

Doing memorable work in cameo roles are SoCal musical theater staples John Racca as the ghost of Dr. Victor von Frankenstein, who urges Frederick to “Join The Family Business,” and Jeffrey Landman, rib-ticklingly funny as village idiot Ziggy, with MTW newbie David W. Miller a scene-stealer as Herald, Mr. Hendershot, and Bob. (Racca doubles as Medical Student and Transylvania Quartet member, and Landman as Shoeshine Man and Lawrence.)

Supporting these ten major players are twelve tiptop triple-threats, giving their Broadway counterparts a run for their money in tracks that turn them into gravediggers, villagers, medical students, passengers, mad scientists and other assorted cameos. They are Jessica Buda (Basha), Ryan Chlanda (Equine), Quintan Craig (Sasha), dance captain Michael Peter Deeb (Telegraph Boy and Transylvania Quartet member), Jessica Ernest (Tasha), Marisa Field, Annie Hinkston, Donna Louden (Masha), Travis Morse (Equine and Transylvania Quartet member), Alishia Suitor, Katy Tabb, and an especially versatile Daniel A. Smith (Medical Student, Transylvania Quartet member, Ritz Specialty, and The Count).

Musical directors Corey Hirsch conducts MTW’s Broadway-ready pit orchestra in addition to coaching the cast’s ever-so-harmonic vocals.

6597 MTW’s Young Frankenstein features Robin Wagner’s creepy, spooky, Tony-nominated original Broadway scenic design and six-time Tony-winning original designer William Ivey Long’s sensationally imaginative, colorful bevy of gorgeous and/or wild-and-crazy costumes. Add to that Brian S. Hsieh’s thrills-and-chills sound design, flashy lighting by SoCal design star Jean-Yves Tessier, and Anthony Gagliardi’s multitude of wigs and you’ve got an all-around topnotch design package.

Costumes have been coordinated by Jamie Brown. Kevin Clowes is technical director. Katherine Cannon is stage manager and Mary Ritenhour production manager/ASL.

Young Frankenstein proves a daring season opener for Musical Theatre West, whose three remaining 61st-season offerings—The Music Man, ‘S Wonderful, and Disney’s Beauty & The Beast—play it considerably safer in deference to its older, more tradition-bound subscriber base. It’s also one of MTW’s most all-around entertaining productions—a bona fide crowd-pleasing “Scary Movie” musical treat.

Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
November 2, 2013
Photos: caught in the moment photography®

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