Updated: May 31
Scientifically Proven, Monstrously Good Entertainment!
Mel Brooks' 1974 film "Young Frankenstein" was a comedy cinema gem. A huge hit at the box office, it was a loving homage to the monster movies of the 1930s and '40s, centered specifically on the Universal series of Frankenstein films. After Brooks' gargantuan stage success in 2001 with the adaptation of his cult classic film, “The Producers,” it was only natural that he would tap into his film library for a follow up.
And now, after many weeks of anticipation, the ingeniously re-imagined stage version of Mel Brooks' “Young Frankenstein,” rampaging into their second weekend at Camino Real Playhouse electrifying audiences, is still a fiendishly funny frolic fueled by the directorial expertise of Dan Blackley, the musical brilliance of Marc Marger and the choreographic prowess of Joanna Tsang-Segelson. The end result is a reanimated bang-up production that sticks a pitchfork into good taste with impressive creative elements, solid direction and an impeccable, mega-talented cast that wrings every vaudeville-style comic moment and bawdy nuance from the script, making the horror spoof all their own. The show is set to run through June 5th at the Playhouse.
The book, by Brooks himself and the late Thomas Meehan, sticks closely to the format of the original Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks screenplay. Frederick Frankenstein is an American professor of neurology lured back to Transylvania to sell off his grandfather’s rambling Gothic pile. Once he arrives, several things tempt him to stay. One is the brio of his yodelling assistant, Inga, who in the course of a wagon-ride to the castle reveals a remarkable capacity to fork hay (“I’m a very hard forker,” she announces). Even more tempting is the prospect of repeating his grandfather’s experiment of reanimating dead tissue and implanting a new brain in the body of a giant corpse. Thus, the Monster is reborn.
The musical is, in part, a send-up of the original 1931 James Whale “Frankenstein” movie. It is even more, however, a love letter to the rackety world of American vaudeville, an evening of gloriously impure fun, chock-a-block with beloved comic performances. Frederick and his dorsally-challenged sidekick, Igor, launch into a front-cloth dance-routine at first sight. This is also a world where there are no pathetic phalluses. Recalling the athletic prowess of Frederick’s grandfather, his ex-lover claims: “He won the three-legged race all by himself.” Best of all is a sequence where the Monster seeks refuge with a blind hermit who serves him warm soup, hot noodles and wine with staggeringly ill-directed aim—a variation on the trembling-waiter gag which you may have seen in “One Man, Tow Guvnors,” and just as funny.
The plot’s just as you remember it, a zany mash-up of a randy, grave-robbing mad scientist, mob-happy villagers, buxom blonde sidekicks and, of course, a lurching monster eager to get in touch with his inner Lothario. So, if you know your schwanzstücker from your schnitzel, you are guaranteed a couple of chuckles here. Suffice it to say, Herr Doctor isn’t the only one obsessed with body parts. Nobody beats Brooks when it comes to phallic punch lines, groaner puns and schoolboy smuttiness.
Mr. Proprofsky as the good Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("That's Fronkensteen!") has the toughest task, taking on the role that Gene Wilder played. A brilliant comic actor in his own right (Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show”), Mr. Proprofsky nails the character's deadpan frenetic edge while maintaining his considerable charm in the show's rare quieter moments. Whether kicking the show off with his tongue twisting entrance number ("The Brain"), shining in a borsht belt gem with humpbacked sidekick Igor ("Together Again"), or leading a production number like “Join the Family Business,” he is a triple threat talent.
Katherine Robinson (“Joseph…;” “Urinetown”) as his socialite American fiancée Elizabeth does some of her most impressive musical theatre work to date, belting as if Merman-possessed, her sole act one number, "Please Don't Touch Me," then arriving with such force in her act two reappearance (“Surprise”) that she threatens to take over the show. But Ms. Robinson really shines when she fervently delivers one of the silliest, low-down love ballads ("Deep Love") of all time when she is kidnapped by a dapper, more upscale monstrous brute and falls hard for him.
And Mandy Kuhn (“West Side Story”), making her Camino Real Playhouse debut, as the charming, wholesomely sexy Inga, a beautiful young woman with a local community college degree in Laboratory Science. Ms. Kuhn is a zaftig zinger of a song and dance gal who makes the most of the shamelessly puerile “Roll in the Hay” number, which is notable for many things, including the fact that the buxom actress never falls out of her dress while bouncing upside down.
But what is Young Frankenstein without Igor (Jason Pascual, also in his debut performance at the Playhouse), complete with the hunchback’s inexplicable hump. Played both as an ode to Marty Feldman as well as every minor player who portrayed a deformed lab assistant in the Universal Studios horror pantheon, Mr. Pascual (“Guys and Dolls”) is an endearing side-splitter as Igor (AKA "Eyegore"), speaking in a sly Cory English, and getting laughs by just the way he slinks across the stage. Christine Dickinson perhaps manages best of all the zanies in creating the frightening housekeeper, Frau Blücher, in an uproariously funny Marlene Dietrich inspired delivery. Her solo turn, a Kurt Weill via Kander & Ebb hoot to "He Vas My Boyfriend," showcases her underrated panache with a musical number.
As the maimed “driven by justice” head of the Romanian police, Rich Hutchinson (“The Addams Family”) does droll double duty as wooden-armed Inspector Kemp (“Und now, let us all go to my house to have a little sponge cake und a little wine...”) and, in one of the more successfully translated film vignettes — the lonely Blind Hermit with the big Jolson style bravura Hermit’s song (“Please Send Me Someone”) that even tugs a bit at the heartstrings. If you remember, Gene Hackman landed that role in the film because Wilder was a frequent tennis partner, which sparked one of the most memorable sequences in comedic history.
Ryan A. Pearson (“The Rocky Horror Show”) as the Monster is the icing on the cake to this comic confection. Mr. Pearson has a powerful presence which lures you into watching his facial and body movements - critical to the success of his mainly mute role. And when Mr. Pearson does let loose in choreographic terms for "Puttin' on the Ritz" or to briefly vocalize on the "Deep Love" reprise, the only description adequate is (to borrow the Monster's famous lyric by Irving Berlin) super duper! His transformation from grunting monster to leading man is a revelation, and his song and dance contribution to the second act is one of the major highlights of the show.
Garrett Claud (“Robin Hood”) also cuts an attractive figure as a dapper Victor Frankenstein and has a sweet, pure vocal quality. Other standouts include Christopher Vournas as the Village Idiot, Mark Schwartz as The Count and Jo Yadrick as Telegraph Boy.
Chris Caputo's scenery design is lavish, funny, versatile and non-cumbersome - impressively so, considering the multiplicity of locales required. Brigitte Harper's costumes are the perfect melding of '30s era fashion styles and Roger Woodcock’s lighting, sound and special effects design create some pretty nifty visuals, including a moment when Frederick drifts off into a dream sequence and darn if it doesn't look just like at the movies!
All in all, Camino Real Playhouse’s “Young Frankenstein” is 100% hysterical, escapist fun with a perfect cast that turns the whole affair into an affectionate crowd-pleaser.
Directed by DAN BLACKLEY with Musical Direction by MARC MARGER, and Stage Managed by SHARON KEENER. Set Designer is CHRIS CAPUTO; Lighting/Sound Designer/Technical Director is ROGER WOODCOCK; Choreographer is JOANNA TSANG-SEGELSON; Costume Designer is BRIGITTE HARPER.
WITH: GARRETT CLAUD as The Herald; CHRISTOPHER VOURNAS as Ziggy, the Village Idiot; RICH HUTCHINSON as Inspector Kemp/The Hermit; TOM PATRICK PROPROFSKY as Frederick Frankenstein; MARK SCHWARTZ as Mr. Hilltop/The Count; JO YADRICK as Telegraph Boy; KATHERINE ROBINSON as Elizabeth; CHRISTOPHER VOURNAS as Shoeshine Man; JASON PASCUAL as Igor; MANDY KUHN as Inga; CHRISTINE DICKINSON as Frau Blucher; GARRETT CLAUD as Victor; RYAN A. PEARSON as The Monster; GARRETT CLAUD, LANETTE GUTMAN, CHRISTOPHER VOURNAS & JO YADRICK as Transylvania Quartet; SHAUN ADAMS, LAURA BOWMAN, STACY CAWTHON, GARRETT CLAUD, LANETTE GUTMAN, ABIGAIL ILLENBERGER, LORI LEWIS, CARISSA MACE, CHRISTOPHER VOURNAS & JO YADRICK as Ensemble.
CAMINO REAL PLAYHOUSE proudly presents the MEL BROOKS musical, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, based on the 1974 motion picture by MEL BROOKS, which opened Friday, May 20th and runs through Sunday, June 5th. Performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30pm. CAMINO REAL PLAYHOUSE is located at 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, CA. 92675. For Tickets:
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report