Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Musical Theatre West's Young Frankenstein is ALIVE!

Zachary Ford as Dr. Frankenstein and Danny Blaylock as the Monster.
Photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

A big, splashy Mel Brooks musical has arrived in Long Beach and Musical Theatre West has created a monster of a good time to go with it. It’s Young Frankenstein, and this luscious regional premiere stars a terrifically talented cast, featuring Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography recreated by Lauren Kadel. The combination is a high-energy recipe for fabulous that, like the lightning flashes that open the show, keeps the stream of jokes, sight gags, and song & dance specialties clipping along at a dazzling pace.

The Producers may have made Mel Brooks a Tony Award-winning commercial success on Broadway but it is Young Frankenstein, his follow-up musical, that really scores big with fans…especially those who grew up on the 1974 black & white film written by Brooks and Gene Wilder on which it is based.

The musical adaptation, by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, contains all the best quotables, like “What hump?” “What knockers!” “Walk this way” and “Put…the candle…back.” Several famous lines have even spawned complete songs to support their silliness. Inga’s “Roll in the Hay” and Frau Blücher’s “He Vas My Boyfriend” are two of the best, while Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz” remains the Broadway baby coming out number for Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster, accompanied by a sophisticated tap ensemble in top hats and tails.

Classic jokes, like the horses whinnying every time Frau Blücher’s name is spoken and the scene where the Hermit pours hot soup in the Monster’s lap before lighting his thumb on fire instead of his cigar, instantly satisfy whether or not you’ve ever seen the film. It’s all one big campy transference of fun – Brooks style – served up with plenty of bawdy humor and innuendo, that never apologizes for being anything but a good time.

In comedy it’s all about the timing and Young Frankenstein’s cast has it down to a science. Zachary Ford and Ben Liebert are Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Igor, buddies who find themselves “Together Again for the First Time” following in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors. Ford makes the transition from mild-mannered, eccentric professor to full-blown mad scientist by channeling Gene Wilder when necessary and uses his own brand of quirky charm to create Herr Doctor the rest of the time. He spits out patter in “The Brain” with incredible precision and plays the straight man to every comic actor in the show beautifully. And when he needs to be funny, he is.

Liebert takes on the role of Igor, stepping into the shoes of the incomparable Marty Feldman like he was his twin. It is a priceless moment when he drops the brain he’s been sent to fetch for the experiment. The resulting anticipation to the upcoming “Abby Normal” scene lingers in the air until he pulls up a floor and admits to the substitution. In a sea of leggy dancers and tall, beautiful characters, he is the pint-sized comedy capper you can’t get enough of.

A trio of talented ladies are paired with Ford to create three uniquely comical relationships. As his self-absorbed girlfriend, Elizabeth, Rebecca Ann Jonson gets her laughs from her almost maniacal insistence that he doesn’t touch her while nubile Andi Davis plays up her innocence as his sexy assistant Inga, ready and willing to provide the goods that Elizabeth won’t. Tracy Lore is the hilarious housekeeper who will give you nightmares at the thought of her late night trysts with Frankenstein’s grandfather, Victor (John Racca). All have impeccable comic timing. 

Danny Blaylock’s Monster finds plenty of laughs as the answer to The Hermit’s (Jeffrey Rockwell) prayer “Please Send Me Someone,” although the friendship is destined to end after only one meal. He also works some pretty impressive dance magic in his big specialty number featuring a larger than life dancing shadow, one of the many inventive dance numbers that trade on Stromans smart, creative mind.

Matching the well-tuned direction and choreography is musical director Corey Hirsch’s clarity in the musical department. The singers and orchestra sound divine, know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, and do it. Effortlessly. Comically. Nothing feels forced.

A Broadway blockbuster from beginning to end, the show is also packaged as a blockbuster technically, with all of its moving parts happily working in harmony. So many shows in town get the sound all wrong making it difficult to hear what’s going on onstage or over-compensating for weaknesses in the production. You’ll find none of those issues here, with Brian S. Hsieh’s sound design a dynamic mix of well-timed effects that serve to enhance the actors’ comedy. Robin Wagner’s scenic design and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting create everything from the Transylvanian Alps to a dark underground laboratory thats full of surprises and William Ivey Long’s costumes are a delicious mix that provide opportunities for humor as well.

Young Frankenstein - the best ticket in town for guaranteed fun and frolic will continue in Long Beach through November 17. When a show like this comes together just right, you want to be there to enjoy the view...or to at least to see this behemoth of a monster come alive.

Zachary Ford and Rebecca Ann Johnson

Zachary Ford, Ben Liebert and Andi Davis

Andi Davis, Zachary Ford, Ben Liebert and Tracy Lore

Ben Liebert as Igor

Danny Blaylock and Jeffrey Rockwell

Andi Davis, Zachary Ford, Danny Blaylock, Ben Liebert, Tracy Lore
 and the cast of Young Frankenstein


Zachary Ford and the cast of Young Frankenstein

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
Musical Theatre West

Nov. 1 - 17, 2013
Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 East Atherton Street, Long Beach, CA 90815
Tickets: www.musical.org or (562) 856-1999 x 4 

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