Palos Verdes Performing Arts opens its 2016-17 season with its splendid big-stage production of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, a tunefuly, double entendre-packed, laugh-filled treat for Brooks fans and classic horror buffs alike.
Like Brooks’ 1974 hit movie follow-up to Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein The Musical recounts the tale of renowned brain surgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Larry Raben), 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 (Lindsey Alley), 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 (Chris Kauffmann), a nubile blonde lab assistant named Inga (Anne Montavan), 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 (Pablo Rossil).
Broadway’s Young Frankenstein recreates the movie’s most memorable sequences, including The Monster’s ill-fated encounter with a blind hermit named Harold (itself inspired by the original 1931 Boris Karloff flick), the classic “Put… the candle… back!” scene, and the top-hat-and-tails musical extravaganza of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”
Brooks’ own dozen and a half original songs make for tuneful, catchy, lyrically clever bunch, and this being Mel, audiences can expect plenty of double entendres (or simply downright dirty jokes) along the way. (When was the last Broadway show in which you heard a chorus of female voices harmonizing to “Don’t dare to touch our 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!”)
With Daniel Smith recreating Susan Stroman’s Drama Desk Award-nominated choreography to show-stopping effect, Young Frankenstein guarantees bouncy production numbers aplenty, including the show-opening “The Happiest Town” (which has the residents of Transylvania Heights celebrating Grandpa Frankenstein’s demise), “Please Don’t Touch Me” (featuring some hilarious 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.)
James W. Gruessing, Jr.’s effervescent direction pays homage to the movie original while adding original touches along the way, and the same can be said for a sensational cast giving fresh life to characters made iconic by the likes of Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, and Gene Hackman.
Raben’s delightfully impish Dr. Frederick Frankenstein anchors the production with the triple-threat star’s accustomed showmanship and pizzazz; the always astonishing Lore chews scenery right and left as the mysterious and spooky Frau Blucher (her hilarious “He Vas My Boyfriend” defines “wild abandon”); Kauffmann is a comedic treat as Frederick’s ever faithful, bright-and-bug-eyed Igor; and Alley adds her own deliciously quirky charms to madcap “me” girl Elizabeth, belting “Deep Love” to the rafters.
Rossil gives Monster a heart as humungous as his hulking frame (and somehow manages to tap-dance in foot-high platforms); the magical Montavan makes Inga entirely her own lusciously leggy creation; and Greg Nicholas does rib-tickling double duty as Inspector Kemp (who inspires a number of outrageous “arm and a leg” gags) and as a blind Hermit whose prayer to “Please Send Me Someone” gets answered in side-splittingly, finger-burningly unexpected ways.
Cameo gems are provided by Andrew Metzger as Herald, Quartet, Bob, and most especially as the ghost of Dr. Victor von Frankenstein, who urges Frederick to “Join The Family Business”; by Jake Saenz as an adorably village-idiotic Ziggy (and as Telegraph Boy); and by Rachel Burcham, Caitlyn Calfas, Patrick Cheek (Quartet), Ryan Chlanda, dance captain Lori Coulis, Cole Cuomo (Quartet, Surprise Visitor), Preston Diaz, Sharon Jewell (Tasha), Danielle Kay (Basha), Mallory Kerwin (Masha), Ty Koeller (Blacken, Sasha), Isabella Olivas, Zachary Salas (Purser, Shoeman, Quartet), and Brenden Solomon (Steward, Decker) as assorted gravediggers, villagers, medical students, passengers, mad scientists and more. (David Diestel appears too as Mr. Hilltop.)
Sean Alexander Bart scores high marks as musical director and for conducting the production’s topnotch pit orchestra.
Young Frankenstein looks terrific thanks to lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier, Robin Wagner’s scenic design (sets and props provided by Networks LLC), and costumes provided by The Theatre Company and coordinated by Christina Bayer. Sound designer Brian Hsieh not only provides numerous scary effects but an expert mix of vocals and instrumentals. Jessica Mills’ wigs and Brad Hardin’s monster makeup deserve applause as well.
Young Frankenstein is produced by Gruessing. Diane L. David is stage manager. Kevin Mayse takes over the conductor’s baton beginning September 30.
Norris Theatre For The Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.
September 23, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger