Vicki Paris Goodman
We knew Mel Brooks was a genius of both comedy and musical theater when he came up with The Producers, a movie box-office bonanza later transformed into an even more sensational Broadway musical. Well, the jury is in. The Producers was definitely not the comedian’s one-hit musical wonder.
Young Frankenstein, another of Brooks’s wildly successful movie comedies, has taken Broadway by storm, wowed audiences on two national tours, and finally made its way to Musical Theatre West. Lucky us!
Opening night at Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center was nothing short of thrilling. There was a buzz in the air, an energy that at first seemed curious. Then the live orchestra began playing the overture, a composition simultaneously bursting with frightful chord progressions interspersed with notes of melodic humor. The haunting image of a menacing castle high atop a mountain filled an enormous screen at the front of the stage. I was like a fish reeled in before the boat had even left the harbor.
One by one, the scenes, with their perfectly timed gags and enormously funny musical numbers, proceeded forth. Professor Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of the scientist of Frankenstein’s monster infamy, conducts a demonstration before his medical-school students. As the professor, the stupendous Zachary Ford sings “The Brain,” a number so jam-packed with lightning-speed lyrics that even Gilbert and Sullivan would likely have felt outdone.
But Frederick’s students would soon have to say good-bye to their distinguished teacher, for he had been summoned to Transylvania to settle his recently deceased grandfather’s affairs. It was to be a brief trip. The best laid plans…
Rebecca Ann Johnson, as Professor Frankenstein’s maximally self-involved fiancée Elizabeth, puts on a bawdy clinic in either taking one’s lover for granted or playing hard to get in the teasing “Please Don’t Touch Me.” In the second act’s “Deep Love,” another testament to the character’s unmatched superficiality, Elizabeth has fallen for her fiancé’s monster creation (Danny Blaylock) based solely on, let’s just say, a certain physical characteristic.
Frederick arrives in Transylvania, only to be convinced by his grandfather’s faithful assistant, the engaging Igor (Ben Liebert), to stay. The pair sing the endearing “Together Again for the First Time.” Compelled by the challenge to match, or even improve upon, his grandfather’s work, Frederick soon succumbs to the temptation. Of course, there is an additional inducement in the form of would-be lab assistant Inga, played with winsome abandon by Andi Davis. Her first number, actually entitled “Roll in the Hay,” takes place on a hayride that transports the trio to the castle.
Once there, they meet the dour Frau Blucher (Tracy Lore), whose name somehow elicits chuckles in anyone who saw Young Frankenstein the movie. In the musical, the utterance of her name draws terrified whinnies from the hay wagon’s two horses (Travis Morse and Ryan Chlanda). It’s funny each and every time.
In Lore’s Frau Blucher there is more than meets the eye. Her solo number “He Vas My Boyfriend” describes with arguably too much information her startling relationship with the elder Dr. Frankenstein.
Of course, there is the second-act scene in the cabin of the lonely blind hermit (Jeffrey Rockwell), in which the newly minted monster has escaped into the forest. The grateful blind man’s hospitality includes ladeling hot soup into the monster’s lap, spilling wine on him, and burning him with a candle intended to light his cigar. The hermit has longed for the serendipitous visit by singing the touching “Please Send Me Someone.”
One highlight of oh so many has Frederick and the monster, both clad in black-tie garb, singing and tapping a delightful rendition of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” at the village theater.
Of course, Musical Theatre West has pulled out all the stops. They always do. Robin Wagner’s set designs are to die for, as are Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Brian S. Hsieh’s sound design. Costume designer William Ivey Long nailed it, too.
Casting for this show is, in a word, perfect. The voices and comedic timing are, in every instance, first-rate.
Young Frankenstein is three quick hours of laugh-inducing utter delight. It is a monster smash!
Musical Theatre West’s Young Frankenstein continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located at 6200 E. Atherton St., on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, through Sunday, Nov. 17. Performances are Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm; there will be two additional performances, on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 7pm and Thursday, Nov. 14 at 8pm. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased through the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or at musical.org .