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REVIEW- "Young Frankenstein," Academy for the Performing Arts (APA)

A Monster Hit!

Last night’s colossal hit, Young Frankenstein, was yet another notch of greatness in APA’s resume of musical theatre! A Tour de Force, a Triumph! A towering Masterpiece of achievement!

Starring familiar faces and directed by Tim Nelson, The Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach Union High School scored big-time with this marvelously crafted homage to the original but brief golden age of Hollywood horror films. APA’s production opened on March 16th to standing room only fans of the show and is now in their closing weekend, with two performances left – one tonight at 7:30pm and the final matinee performance tomorrow at 2pm.

Specifically spoofing the 1931 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and following closely to the 1974 movie, Young Frankenstein, which starred Gene Wilder (also by Mel Brooks), the show was gleefully reanimated for the stage in 2007 by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. With corny jokes, superb set-pieces and barnstorming parody songs that stick a pitchfork into good taste, the sheer brilliance of the performance contrasts vividly with the low-down and dirty obviousness of the one-liners.

Silly and shameless from start to finish, the show includes most of the time-honored gags – the “walk this way” routine, the word-play with “werewolves,” “knockers,” etc., etc. You get the picture. Mel Brooks' parodies are like your favorite, worn-out couch. You know it's not the greatest in style, class and quality, but it just feels so darn comfortable.

Here’s a quick rundown: Victor Frankenstein has died, bringing much relief to the local villagers. That is, until they learn that the doctor has a living grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Austin Schulte), teaching medical science in America. A telegram is sent post haste and soon the brilliant doctor is saying goodbye to his coy fiancée and boarding a ship to Transylvania, his family's homeland, and the old ancestral castle.

Met by his dorsally-challenged sidekick, Igor (Marcus Veyette), they immediately launch into an audience-rousing dance routine with “Together Again.” On the trip to the castle, one of the most amusing numbers I’ve ever seen follows as he meets his voluptuous lab assistant, Inga (Allison Bossart), with “Roll In The Hay.”

In Transylvania, proudly flaunting his credentials as a high-minded man of science, Frankenstein initially resists temptation to embrace the family traditions of grave-robbing and corpse reanimation. But with a little encouragement from his rubber-limbed hunchback new friend, along with the flirtatious Inga and stone-faced housekeeper Frau Blucher (Bailee O’Connell), whose very name causes horses to rear in fright, he eventually changes his mind after he discovers a book entitled ‘How I Did It’ by his grandfather, Victor (played by Patrick McCormick). Now all that’s left is a little grave-robbing and a trip to the local Brain Depository, and the Frankenstein family is back in business. Frederick creates the creature ("Life, Life"), with much electrical fanfair, who immediately goes on a violent rampage shortly after waking. It’s Alive!

The villagers want to destroy the monster, but frightens him away, where he finds temporary refuge with a hermit that just wants some company. Normally played by an older man (in the movie it was Gene Hackman of all people), the poor blind hermit is humorously performed by Annalise Fujii as one of the cult scenes in the show, using a barrage of puns, physical comedy and coarse humor. Then there is much ado with obligatory town meetings, lynch mobs, police investigations, laboratory experiments, love scenes, and a cheerfully ribald preoccupation with a key area of the monster’s stitched-together anatomy.

Damon Williams gets to show off some fine silent-comedy skills (if you don’t count the grunts) as the fearsome Monster who just wants to be loved, but for some reason I simply couldn’t get Everybody Loves Raymond’s dad out of my mind. Williams is a delightfully fleet footed, dim witted, and randy Monster, remarkably agile while wearing platform shoes. One of the highlights of the show was the creature’s dance tap rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” a sort of love letter to the rackety world of American vaudeville.

Choreographer Diane Makas pulls out all the stops for this one as she recreates much of the original Broadway choreography. But what really makes it fly is the monster’s sheer obvious pleasure in what he’s doing - this big galoot of a mannequin who is being seduced by the singular joys of musical theatre and loving it!

Schulte brings a friendly, frenetic energy to the role of Frederick Frankenstein. He's light on his feet with a smooth easy voice and gregarious nature, and is pushed to near perfection in Act Two. Veyette, as Igor, is full of fantastic double takes and sly humor, and a real joy to watch him interact with the good doctor. Their chemistry plays off each other's character in well-timed moments both subtle and overt.

Malia Merrill, as Elizabeth, adds to the fun with a strong singing voice and exaggeratedly comic gestures. Alberto Hernandez, as Inspector Hans Kemp, with his artificial arm, created a laugh-out-loud cartoonish interpretation of the character that was very similar to the original, while Amy Twisselmann, the monster’s shadow dancer during the big number, made the whole audience smile.

Mel Brooks may be the grandfather of bad jokes, with his love of corny puns and sly interjections of topical humor. But he's never one to miss a pratfall or the opportunity for a bawdy joke delivered with a leering glance. Director Tim Nelson recognizes and embraces his style by updating some of the pop culture quips and keeping the sexual humor without going overboard. The balance works well for a family friendly show.

Hats off to stage managers, dance captains, ensemble, Ritz Tappers, Pit Singers, entourage and all support cast. Lighting, sound, tech and run crews were perfectly in sync. Costumes were by Sophia LeTourneau and Scenic Designer was Jennifer McLean. Marley Timmerman handled FX projection and Hair and MakeUp by Julia Capelle.

Orchestra Conductor Gregg Gilboe, with a full size student orchestra, does his usual spectacular job of paying attention to the details in the musical styles while keeping the transitions fluid, interesting, and right on target.

APA’s production of Young Frankenstein is not only a madcap adventure, but also a plethora of smart, well-crafted ditties and enthusiastic jazz numbers that perfectly compliment the over-the-top horror movie spoof. The costumes, the staging, the music and some of the best performers at APA made this musical current and modern, but at the same time manages to stay in touch with medieval humor.

You will throw away the movie after seeing Young Frankenstein on stage. It’s a sell-out, so get your tickets quick!

Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer


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