“That’s ‘Fronkensteen’! My name, it’s pronounced ‘Fronkensteen’!” insists young Dr…well, “Frankenstein”. Regardless of what pronunciation he personally favors, he’s still the grandson of “Dr. Victor Frankenstein”, the infamous monster-maker of film, folklore, literature, and this time around it’s he—not ‘Dear Old Granddad’ who’s at the center of “Young Frankenstein”, the hit musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ 1974 laugh-a-minute blockbuster. Now just in time for the Halloween Season, 3-D Theatricals—one of Southern California’s most notable and Award-winning Theater companies, has opened their phenomenal ninth season with this equally uproarious musical. Unfolding in the foreboding ancestral “Castle Frankenstein” out on the foggy moors of “Transylvania Heights”, the basic premise is one that’s familiar to just about all of us: Young “Dr. Frankenstein” (–OK, “Fronkensteen”,) attempts to match his grandfather’s masterwork by bringing a corpse to life. Together with his oddly-shaped but endearingly mischievous helper “Igor” (pronounced ‘Eye-gor’), his curvaceous lab assistant “Inga”, and despite “Elizabeth”–the incredibly self-involved New York Debutante he’s engaged to, the “doctor” succeeds in creating a hulking monster– but one not without a flair for a spectacular song-and-dance number! Rest assured, this time, the jolts you’ll be getting have nothing to do with the electrodes in any lab—these are jolts of laughter from this A-Plus new production!
Very loosely derived from the time-honored horror tale by Mary Shelley and the numerous movie versions that have followed (essentially since the dawn of the art-form,) this musical rendering is distinguished by a stunningly (and in few cases, stingingly) funny book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (based on the screenplay by Brooks) and features music and lyrics by ol’ Mel himself–built on, in several occasions, tunes and song-snippets he wrote for his landmark movie of the same name. Packing his story with one awesome–and awesomely funny–number after the other, Brooks has fundamentally taken an already outstanding screwball comedy from the screen, and transformed it into an altogether more outstanding screwball musical comedy for the stage–one that’s over-flowing with bawdy, borsch-belt humor, snappy one-liner’s and sight-gags, and all crowned with some stupendous songs, which run the raucous gamut from the sporty “Transylvania Mania”; the dramatic “He Vas My Boyfriend”; the chipper “Roll In The Hay”; to the slightly perplexing “Together Again (For The First Time)” and also including the unforgettable extravaganza (complete with kick-line) built around Irving Berlin’s classic “”Putting on the Ritz”. Moreover, with direction here by David Lamoureux, Choreography by Daniel Smith, and Musical Direction by Corey Hirsch, this talented and perspicacious trio have taken this blazing fire-ball of entertaining material and run with it all the way into the championship zone!
Acting and Performance-wise, too much is definitely not enough for a show and script like this one, yet wisely the cast never over-do it so much that it appears strained or overtly campy. Indeed, the awesome dancing, and energetic chorale work are exhibited right from the opening in “The Happiest Town In Town”, as a brightly dressed band of peasants from the little village of “Transylvania Heights” are ‘celebrating’ the passing of their little burgh’s one noteworthy (and notorious) citizen, the much-feared “Dr. Victor Frankenstein” —whom they believe is the last of the dreaded “Frankenstein” line. Nonetheless, the revelries are cut short by the municipality’s Chief Constable, “Inspector Kemp” (who once tangled with the doctor’s legendary creation—and it ended up costing him an arm and a leg—literally!)
He warns that one relative still remains—the doctor’s grandson, “Frederick”: “The Dean of Anatomy at New York’s most famous institute of higher learning—‘The Johns, Miriam, and Anthony Hopkins School Of Medicine”. Immediately we’re transported there, where we find that same grandson conducting a lecture about his most favorite bodily organ—“The Brain”. Yet, still the students insist on plaguing him with questions that have pursued him all of his life”: ‘It’s been said, nay even sung, that your grandfather’s monster hurt and lamed, killed and maimed. Is that true, Doctor Frankenstein?” They query. Informed of his famous fore-bearer’s passing, he’s called to the family’s ancestral castle in—you guessed it—Transylvania! Shortly before getting on the ship and departing he bids a frustrated farewell to his excruciatingly-chic betrothed, but it’s something of a cold comfort, since she’s so sumptuously arrayed, she flat-out won’t let him kiss her good-bye, begging him “Please Don’t Touch Me” while tantalizing him with suggestive promises once he returns. Their parting isn’t without at least some semblance of affection though—they do get to “air dance’ (together and near one another–but about two feet apart,) which is soon imitated by several other couples—similarly close, but separated, leading into one of the show’s more creative dance interludes: A flowery waltz dubbed “The Please Don’t Touch Me” (forget “The Continental” or “The Bunny Hop”—this, we’re informed, is “the new dance craze that’s sweeping Catholic Girl’s schools all over the Midwest”!) It’s a little off-beat but undoubtedly an Act One crowd-pleaser.
At the castle, Frederick dreams that he’s visited by the ghost of his nefarious patriarch (–the old guy they were planting in scene one,) who instigates another awesome group triumph—“Join The Family Business”, where Brooks’ comedic genius is on full display! Executing some bold “Russian Ballet” like moves with plenty of breathtaking pirouettes and grand-jetes, those assembled (as the Frankenstein Ancestors) construct a humongous effigy of the iconic Frankenstein monster right before our eyes (which then tries to stomp on Fred!) If this weren’t enough, also featured is a singing skeleton named “Mordechai”. “My ancestors are crazy—but boy can they dance!” Frederick breezes upon ‘waking up’. Not long after, delightful “Barbershop” style harmony is also supplied by five gents billed as “The Transylvania Quartet” who perform “Welcome To Transylvania”. Seen just before the act break, it serves as a terrific segue for the nifty “Transylvania Mania”–another rousing group endeavor that closes Act One. A prime example of “fun’ choreography if ever there were any, led by the doctor’s hunchback henchman, “Igor”, its part Polka, part Jive and Jitterbug, and all eye-popping! “Everybody who’s been viewing it, can’t resist its appeal. Everybody’s out there doing it—Millionaire and Schlemiel!” proclaim the townsfolk joyously. (Too bad it has to end with the monster breaking his chains and heading out on a rabid rampage.) After intermission is where all “Mel’ breaks loose, with much of the action conveyed in a series of brief comic vignettes. As for big numbers, far and away the biggest of the big is “Puttin’ On The Ritz”—a holdover from the film which, herein has been expanded and re-envisioned into the musical number to end all musical numbers! Rooted in “Frederick’s” desire to demonstrate a gentler and more ‘human’ side to his brawny creation, it builds into…uh…a monster of a showcase that has the creature performing a debonair routine opposite his own shadow (with the shadow a few beats behind–or working on different steps entirely!) Before he’s through, he’s joined by a whole tap-line—all in elevated “monster” tap shoes. (Go on! Dare your toes NOT to tap along!) It’s so silly it works in spades, and to top it off, we at last get to hear the Monster sing (sort of) and dance. (Busby Berkley—eat your heart out!) Subsequently, even the curtain-call plays like a brisker, bubblier variation on the traditional “Ländler tanzen”, sending the audience out on a resounding high note!
Dino Nicandros continues his Southern California winning-streak that has seen him as a substantial force in the success of other recent local area productions from “Mary Poppins” and “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (where he was the singing voice of “Quasimodo”) to 3-D Theatrical’s own “Side Show” and “The Addams Family” (opposite Rachel York and Bronson Pinchot.) Here he excels as the flummoxed and easily agitated “Frederick Frankenstein”–the “Young Frankenstein” of the title. Nicandros has a pleasant, smooth, contemporary kind of voice which calls to mind many a top 40 radio chart-topper—but one that also contains considerable efficacy and emotional eloquence when needed. He thoroughly invests these attributes into his character, along with a dandy sense of neurosis (or, put more precisely, “hyperactivity”.) Starting with his opening chanson, appropriately called “What I Love About The Brain”, Dino hands over some exhilarating fast-paced line-delivery that seems to just get faster and faster as the song goes on. “There Is Nothing Like The Brain!” he exults: “Hearts and lungs are simply ‘tinker toys’ when stacked against the Brain!” It’s a highly enjoyable introduction to out story’s hero (–and this is just one of the dazzling implements in his impressive vocal tool box!)
He also does a laudable job with the driven, manic intensity of the climactic “Give My Creature Life”, while also generating his share of guffaws with “Man About Town”, in which he formulates his plan to give the monster something of a public-relations make-over by changing everyone’s opinion of them both. How does he choose to do it? What else? By putting his creation on the Vaudeville stage. Finishing off, he gives us the pensive “Frederick’s Soliloquy’ sung at the gallows, as the doctor prepares to face his untimely end (that is, until nutty luck intervenes—bringing about a startlingly rapid–but happy conclusion for them all: “We can take a hayride when we’re on our Honeymoon,” he croons to Inga; “We’ll make ‘The Son Of Frankenstein’—the sequel’s coming soon!”) As the giddy lab assistant, “Inga”, Julia Aks gets her share of laughs–but refreshingly, doesn’t get them by stooping to be the tired old stereotype of the typical burlesque, busty blond bimbo who has no idea of the effect she has over men (I.E. that of turning them into drooling, stammering, over-heated Junior-High-school boys.) Instead, she get them by being actually funny and having exceptional coming timing (–she sure does have great gams though!) Springing up from a pile of hay in the cart “Igor” has brought to speed “Frederick” to the castle, she promptly informs him “I have a Master’s Degree in Laboratory Science from Heidelberg Junior College; I can fulfill all your needs. I am a very hard vorker, and if necessary I’ll even bend over backvards for you!” Gifted with a pristine soprano voice and a jovial way of disbursing it, Aks shines in her own prefatory number “Roll In The Hay” making it still another bona fide crowd-pleaser (she even yodels during it!) However, as often happens, the more “Inga” and “Frederick” work together the more it becomes obvious that she has a’ thing’ for the good doctor, leading her to admit she wants to “Assist his brains out!” This, she makes acutely apparent in the lush and velvety, “Listen To Your Heart”, which Ms. Aks also elevates into a romantic highpoint of Act Two. Urging the doctor to join her in the simple joys of…er…being ‘simple’, “Inga” playfully cajoles: “Let’s be stupid together; not a thought in our head. Bird-brains of a feather, who fly right into bed!”
Likewise, Erik Scott Romney makes his hilarious mark (and then some) as the doctor’s hunchbacked right-hand man, “Igor” (or “Eye-gor” as it were.) Just be sure you don’t call too much attention to his ever shifting spinal hump which changes ‘sides’ like the moon changes phases (“What hump?” he insists.) Upon meeting the Doctor, they instantly start to dicker over the proper pronunciation of both their names: first when “Frederick” once more objects to the ‘frank’ emphasis the stranger has used when uttering his family moniker: “Well then, your first name, do you pronounce it ‘Froderick’?” he asks; then, when the doctor discovers who this peculiar character in point of fact is, he too, attempts to greet him: “You must be Igor”. “No, it’s pronounced ‘EYE-GOR” he too is thus corrected. This dialogue swiftly gives rise to their jaunty duet, “Together Again For The First Time” which sincerely livens the action after the opening. As gifted a dancer as he is a singer, Romney has several fantastic opportunities to verify this—not only by leading the spirited “Transylvania Mania” but also with major contributions to “Roll In The Hay” and the climactic “Putting On The Ritz”. Meanwhile, Ashley Fox Linton all but gives off sparks in her oh, so sophisticated turn as Frederick’s “adorable, madcap, high-society Fiancée (in a Park Avenue Penthouse,)” “Elizabeth”. “I’m coming darling,” she trills offstage right before her fabulous first entrance; “I’m coming…I’m COMING! HEEEEERE I AM!” What a voice this lady has—and what money-notes she hits while adeptly using it! Bedecked from head to toe in shocking red (including her furs,) she feigns to cringe when her intended tries to kiss or hug her adieu for fear of having her ‘Voguish’ couture disarranged (“Taffeta, Darling…it wrinkles so easily.”)
With the buoyant voice of a seasoned Broadway-Belter and a humongous personality to match, her appearance in the first act may be brief, but she certainly makes it memorable while performing ‘evasive action’ in the midst of their ‘bon voyages’ at a ship’s dock. Launching into her number “Please Don’t Touch Me” (which alone confirms Brooks and Meehan’s way with witty dialogue and lyrics,) she entices “Frederick” with some fairly saucy and suggestive promises—so as long as she doesn’t have to get in any way close to him. Then, she drops the real expositional bombshell: “Oh, Freddie Darling, I know you’re still a Virgin!” she coos scrumptiously; “Yes,” he confesses, “for me, science has always come first.” Later in the second act, when she shows up in the castle’s main entry at the most inopportune time, she’s had the audacity to bring along her lavish entourage—“Marcia”, “Sasha”, “Masha”, “Basha”, and “Bob”–who all fork over some mean counter obbligato for her re-introductory number called (not surprisingly) “Surprise!” Next, Linton scores more prodigiously than her previous outings–pulling out all the stops for the passionately over the top “Deep Love”. After “Liz” has been carried off by the monster she totally raises the roof making this 11 O’Clock number an unforgettable and near-operatic climax to the entire show. Once, this New York Deb starts talking about a serious ‘commitment’ though, like any guy the Monster starts to get cold feet (who’s ever they may have belonged to.) “Where are you going? You’re walking out on me?! Me?!” she fumes with indignation “You men are all alike! Five or six quick ones and you’re off with the boys to boast and brag!”
Practically presenting a “How To” course on what a “High Powered Performance” truly is, Tracy Rowe Mutz returns to the 3-D Theatricals’ stages as the stern Caretaker of the castle, “Frau Blucher” (cure the horse-whinny.) Think Dame Judith Anderson at her creepy “Manderley” Housekeeper best, (as recalled from another silver-screen thriller, “Rebecca”) by way of one of the more gruesome denizens from “The Walking Dead”. With a voice like Marlena Dietrich on helium and a hilariously exaggerated accent and mannerisms, Mutz scores a direct bulls-eye virtually every time she’s on stage, making her “Frau Blucher” a categorical audience favorite. This she handily demonstrates with “He Vas My Boyfreund!” fittingly sung in the old doctor’s hidden lab, which she’s not-so-subtlety led our heroes to finding. (In it, she throws in a few sly nods to “Cabaret’s” brash and brassy ballad “Mein Herr” too.) Despite bemoaning what a beast our boy Victor was and how terribly he treated her, still “Blucher” dreamily recollects their initial meeting at the village’s annual “Beer Bock Festival”–and what drew her to him like a moth to a flame: “Fun and games all day long…Archery, badminton, potato sack,” she giddily hearkens back on; “Victor von the three-legged race–all by himself. It vas love at first sight!” Also a formidable force to be reckoned with is Danny Blaylock who sports plenty of green “scare-tissue” make-up as “The Monster”. Although he doesn’t make his first appearance until towards the end of the first act, it too is decidedly worth waiting for—and while he doesn’t exactly get to sing until Act Two, when it finally happens, it has him as the focal point of the show-stopping “Puttin’ On The Ritz”. Right before the final curtain is rung, he also provides us with an A-Plus reprise of “Deep Love” which gives us (albeit momentarily) just a sampling of what a gold-medal voice he really has! Richard Gould also doesn’t put a foot wrong pulling double-duty as both “Inspector Kemp” and “Harold, The Hermit”—giving him the chances to amaze us twice as much. Both characters utilize lots of first-rate slapstick humor in their various episodes, and while his turn as the “Inspector” only casts him in a supporting role to larger collective undertakings like the opening, “The Happiest Town In Town” and “He’s Loose” (that launches the second act,) as “Harold”, Gould gets to demonstrate his formidable vocal talents and emotive capabilities (including a nice knack for the melodramatic) with his spot-light number, “Please Send Me Someone”. While on the lam, the monster stumbles upon a blind hermit (Harold) after crashing through his cabin door. The scene itself is victory for both Gould and Blaylock giving Danny the chance to register some priceless deadpan reaction to the man’s clumsily attempts at hospitality (including setting the monster’s thumb on fire thinking it’s his cigar!) “Don’t go!” the hapless Hermit calls after him; “I was gonna make espresso!”
Jean Yves-Tessier’s moody lighting design works in perfect tandem with Jonathan Infante’s projections, which include flashes of lighting (of which there are plenty in this particular show,) and eerie shadow effects from ersatz candles–not to mention the somewhat disquieting lab equipment (–look close and you’re sure to spy a workable Tesla coil too!) Each conjures the look and feel of one of those spine-tingling old Universal black-and-white monster-pictures of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. They’re also responsible for some brilliant ‘visual puns’ and splashy ‘cinematic’ effects via several shrewdly timed projections. Upon entering the auditorium, attendees are greeted by a looming projection of the castle perched on at the zenith of a tall, craggy hill with an equally, jagged and perilous road straining its way to the pinnacle. At lights down, the title projection (familiar to anyone who’s seen the film) suddenly appears illuminated by the standard lightning flash, followed by the list of “starring” credits with the cast-member’s name and which role we can look forward to seeing them in (–also reminiscent of the film.) Let’s not over the look the amazing sound design by Julie Ferrin either, which, in effect, creates vividly crisp, ‘surround-sound’ throughout the theater! The costumes, by NETworks are a recreation of the Broadway originals by William Ivey Long, and are a work of art in their own right—including copious examples of Multi-colored Tyrolean garb to smooth, ivory lab-coats, and Igor’s vintage yellow rain slicker and matching hat to boot! Furthermore, how many times do you hear even the orchestra get complimented? Yet more than a few of these appreciative comments praising their magnificent work were overheard from the exiting throng on opening weekend.
So join this family and experience their business (—funny business that is!) Following a “Shriek Preview” on Friday, October 6th, “Young Frankenstein” ‘officially’ opened on Saturday, October 7th, 2017 at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” located at: 1935 E. Manhattan Beach Blvd., in Redondo Beach, California. There it will play through Sunday, October 15th, 2017. Showtimes for this engagement are Friday and Saturday, October 7th and 14th, at 8:00 PM (with an additional Saturday Matinee on October 14th at 2:00 PM) with Sunday Matinees (October 8th and 15th) at 2:00 PM. Group and Student discounts are available for this phase of the run, with special “Rush” tickets obtainable one hour prior to “select performances”. Afterward, the show heads to “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” located at 12700 Center Court Drive in Cerritos, California, where it is slated to run from Friday, October 20th through Sunday, October 29th, 2017. Showtimes for this engagement are: Friday evenings at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. There will also be an added performance on Thursday, October 26th at 7:30 PM. Group and Student Discounts are also available for this engagement. Tickets for both locations may be purchased by calling the 3-D Theatricals’ “Remote” Box-Office at: (714) 589-2770 x 1, Monday through Friday 11:00 AM-5:00 PM; 12:00 Noon-4:00 PM on Saturdays; on-line orders may be made by logging onto http://www.3dtshows.org (or, for the Cerritos run, http://www.Cerritoscenter.com as well.) Box Offices for both locations open two hours prior to performances (One hour for Sunday Performances at Cerritos Center.)
Production Stills By “Caught in the Moment Photography” (CaughtintheMoment.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, David Lamoureux, Daniel Smith, Corey Hirsch, Mel Brooks–And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2017 Production Of “Young Frankenstein” For Making This Story Possible.