Santa Maria Civic Theatre continues its 59th season with another ambitious production. As with its previous show, “Hairspray,” “Young Frankenstein” features elaborate costumes and make-up (by Sarah Buchanan), and big song-and-dance numbers (choreography by Christine Fogh).
The show is the brainchild of comedy legend Mel Brooks. It's adapted from his 1974 film of the same name, which satirized the iconic 1931 Universal film of “Frankenstein.” (Full disclosure: While the film “Young Frankenstein” is widely considered a comedy classic, this critic finds it overrated. I am a Brooks fan in general, however.)
Twenty-seven years later, Brooks' musical adaptation of his film “The Producers” became the biggest sensation on Broadway. “Young Frankenstein” was his follow-up, opening on Broadway in 2007. It never reached the same level of popularity as “The Producers,” though a more successful London production followed.
Brooks' film was shot in black and white, capturing the style of the Universal film. That element is lost in the transition to the stage, and the show becomes more of an openly wacky Halloween romp. Brooks' affection for classic musical comedy comes through in his catchy song-and-dance numbers. On the other hand, the humor is broad and some of it, a bit tired.
There's a great deal of innuendo, and we're not talking coded lyrics out of the Cole Porter era. It's all right out in the open. There are numbers called “Roll in the Hay” and “Deep Love” -- and by reading those titles, you basically get the entire joke of both songs. Despite this, the show seems rather tame compared to “The Rocky Horror Show” or other raunchy musicals. Also, while the songs are fun, the score lacks a big memorable centerpiece like “The Producers” had in “Springtime for Hitler.”
The show opens -- where else? -- outside the gates of a spooky Transylvanian castle. Set designer Greg Webster makes efficient use of a single backdrop -- in this case, a painted stone archway that can easily double as both the interior and exterior of Castle Frankenstein. The villagers celebrate the recent death of Victor von Frankenstein, believing his monstrous creations will plague them no more. However, it's quickly revealed that Frankenstein has an heir, his grandson Frederick (Cody Fogh), who is a renowned doctor in New York City.
Frederick is introduced in a peppy number, “The Brain,” in which he sings the praises of said organ while gazing lovingly at a brain in a jar. Desperate to distance himself from his family's infamy, Frederick insists his last name is pronounced “Fronken-STEEN” -- which makes for one of the piece's most famous running gags. Fogh masters the swift patter of the number as he rattles off organs he thinks less of and geniuses he'd rather be compared to. His performance samples a little bit of Gene Wilder from the original and a little bit of Johnny Depp's Ed Wood.
Frederick soon departs for Transylvania to set grandpa's affairs in order. His glamorous fiancee, Elizabeth (Christina Landeros), shows up to bid him bon voyage, while avoiding any public display of affection. Her number “Please Don't Touch Me,” features some of the show's most well-crafted comedic choreography, as Elizabeth lets everyone touch her, except Frederick. Landeros shows off her vocal chops both here, and later on, when Elisabeth finally discovers “Deep Love.”
Kyle Hawkins gives an energetic performance as Igor, the grandson of Frankenstein's original henchman. He, too, is rather particular about the pronunciation of his name. “It's pronounced 'Eye-gor!'” he claims. “But they told me it was 'Eee-gor!'” Frederick says. “Well, they were wrong then, weren't they?” Igor shoots back. His ever-moving hump makes for another beloved running gag.
Meg Woods plays Inga, Frederick's Transylvanian lab assistant, who invites him for the aforementioned “Roll in the Hay” -- by which she means a hay ride. The number gives Woods a rare theatrical opportunity to show off her yodeling skills. She and Fogh share an amusing bit of physical comedy with the castle's requisite bookcase/secret passage entrance.
Diana Diaz plays housekeeper Frau Blucher, who is so creepy, the mere mention of her name causes an unseen horse to whinny in terror. She reveals a more sentimental side -- in her own creepy way -- with her big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
Frederick is soon visited by a vision of his late grandfather (Stuart Wenger), who leads a chorus of kooky ancestors in enticing the young Frankenstein to “Join the Family Business.” This spirited number spurs Frederick to make an undead creature of his own.
The villagers turn up, under the pretense of welcoming Frederick, when they're really there to snoop (or “schnoop.”) They're led by Inspector Kemp (Jeffrey Staso), whose schtick is that he has an artificial arm that makes cartoon creaking noises when he moves it. As the monster (Todd Buranen) moans from within the castle, Igor distracts them by doing the “Transylvania Mania,” a sort of cross between the Charleston, "Monster Mash" and "Thriller" dances. Unfortunately, it can't stop them from noticing when the monster flees and goes on a rampage.
Soon, we're introduced to a lonely hermit (Craig Scott) who sings the anthem-like “Please Send Me Someone.” This lonely plea becomes comical because we know that “someone” will be the monster.
In another famous scene lifted from the movie, Frederick hatches a plot to show the world his creation can be more sophisticated by having him sing Irving Berlin's “Puttin' on the Ritz.” Fogh handles the complex verses, while Buranen screams “PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ!” with great gusto. A full chorus joins in, turning the number into a toe-tapping showstopper.
Director Sally Buchanan has brought another polished production to the intimate Civic Theatre stage. If you're blue, and you don't know where to go to ... and you like over-the-top comedy ... why don't you go where Broadway fits? ("PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ!")