Friday, July 18, 2014

Young Frankenstein at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

From left: Igor, Frau Blüche, Dr. Frankenstein and Inga. Photos by Kat Dollarhide

Monster and blind man
Dr. Frankenstein, Inga and Igor

Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” is one of the funniest musicals ever written. The stage musical, which came after the popular movie by Brooks and Gene Wilder, premiered at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in 2007 before going to Broadway. I reviewed it then for The News Tribune and said it was outstanding, but other reviewers did not rave, and it had a less than stellar run on Broadway.

The local production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse drags a bit in the first act, but the second act more than makes up for any shortcomings in the first.

Both the 1974 movie and the play are spoofs of genre horror films with upbeat song-and-dance numbers and Borscht Belt humor. The scenario is that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Stephen Bucheit), grandson of the notorious Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein, creator of the monster, is a well-respected Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York. Upon the death of his ancestor, he visits the family castle in Transylvania and is seduced by the lovely Inga (Allyson Jacobs-Lake) into taking up his mad grandfather’s work. With help from his grandfather’s house keeper, Frau Blücher (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) and humpbacked servant, Igor (Jeffrey Bassett), he creates a new monster (played by James Walters, who also doubles as the ghost of the original Dr. Frankenstein).

The early scenes are contrived and seem to be straining for comic effect – particularly the going away scene with Frankenstein and Elizabeth (Dana Johnson). Elizabeth’s song, “Please Don’t Touch Me” is a great comic idea that doesn’t quite work. But things get livelier when Dr. Frankenstein goes to Transylvania and meets with Igor and Inga. Igor is one of the best comic characters of all time, and Bassett plays him beautifully, rivaling the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor in the movie; and Inga’s hayride song, “Roll in the Hay” is the first spark to enliven a play that until that moment had been plodding like the neighing horses that pull their wagon (and who neigh hilariously and oddly every time Frau Blücher’s name is spoken). Inga’s yodeling in this song and later in the love scene, cracks the audience up.

Things get much livelier once the monster comes alive and insanely brilliant when the monster and the ensemble sing and dance Irving Berlin’s “Putting on the Ritz.” This number is proof positive that Brooks is a comic genius, and the cast and crew (and let’s not forget Jeff Stvrtecky’s orchestra) do it to perfection.

The blind hermit vignette with John Miller (who doubles as Inspector Hans Kemp) belting out a great and passionate rendition of the poignant “Please Send Me Someone,” is like something out of Monty Python but with a huge hearts – moving enough to forgive his ludicrous wig and beard. After an unexpected plot twist in a cave in the deep forest, Johnson sings the love song “Deep Love” with conviction, dropping the nasal lisp she adopted in earlier scenes, and later still, Walters, an accomplished operatic tenor, belts out the reprise of “Deep Love” with even more passion.

The first act is a moderately funny extended set-up for the explosive and joyous second act, which is so great I would sit through a reading of the phone book to get to it.

Kudos also to Bruce Haasl for a great set and as always to Stvrtecky for his fabulous music.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 3
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Coming up: a review of Animal Fire Theatre’s outdoor performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Harlequin Productions’ “Middletown.”

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