Great cast, theatrics, make Frankenstein a monster hit

If you laughed at the movie Young Frankenstein that spoofs horror films, you will howl during The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, outdoors under the stars.

The show stays true to the Broadway adaptation from 2007 that tweaks the movie plot and spikes it with dancing and suggestive songs. And be warned, Brooks, the guy who also created The Producers and Blazing Saddles, wrote the music and lyrics.

(L-R) Noelle Marion is Inga, Larry Raben as Dr. Frederick von Frankenstein, Tracy Lore as Frau Blücher, Jamie Torcellini as Igor, and Randall Hickman as The Monster.

(L-R) Noelle Marion is Inga, Larry Raben as Dr. Frederick von Frankenstein, Tracy Lore as Frau Blücher, Jamie Torcellini as Igor, and Randall Hickman as The Monster.  Photo: Ken Jacques

Whacky elements remain, such Igor’s shifting hump and the much anticipated neighing horses, and of course, Brooks’ outrageous Borscht Belt humor of double entendres, knocker jokes, and allusions to the size of male sex organs.

Moonlight’s Young Frankenstein, which opened this week, is a monster hit marked by an electric cast with sharp comic timing.

In his Moonlight debut, Larrry Raben plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein with frizzled hair hysteria that taps into the insane charm of Gene Wilder, who starred in the film.

He chastises his students who refuse to call him “Fronk-en-shteen” and in frustration, stabs himself in the thigh. He rolls in “zah” hay and conducts physical experiments with Inga, his adoring lab assistant, played by the lovely blonde, Noelle Marion.

Raben’s rapid-fire delivery of scientists in the tongue-twister tune “The Brain” is jaw-droppingly good. Marion’s bouncy romp in and around the hay wagon balances sweet and risqué. Her deliberately bad German accent captures Teri Garr’s film role, though her singing borders on pitchy in “Listen to your Heart.”

The entire cast is loveable, and Jamie Torcellini as the hunchbacked Igor makes you want to hug him hump and all. He has comic genius equal to Marty Feldman, the bug-eyed stooge to Frederick in the film, and he’s wonderfully physical. He slinks in the shadows and shoots back one-liners with ease, and he’s also a limber modern dancer.  Watch for him sliding into a half split.

Dr. Frankenstein, Inga, and Igor (Eye-gor) exude ghoulish chemistry, and Frau Blucher is the glue the bonds the four.

Tracy Lore as Frau Blucher- the bitter castle keeper who is so creepy that horses whinny when her name is uttered -is delightfully scary, and her solo “He Vas My Boyfriend” is jam-packed with rotten and risqué imagery.  Dark lyrics describe her abusive relationship with Victor, Frederick’s infamous grandpa who created the first Monster.

Jessica Bernard as the self-absorbed Elizabeth Banning, Frederick’s frigid fiancée, is a flawless singer able to belt out steamy lyrics with unabashed zeal.

Randall Hickman, in the Monster role originated by the late Peter Boyle in the film, gives him a big and jolly personality, and he cleans up nicely when transformed into a song and dance giant in top hat and tails.

Sound effects are spot on as Doug Davis cranks his fake stiff arm in the role of the dimwit Inspector Kemp. Horse whinnies, thunder rumbles, and dangerous zaps are also part of Christopher Leussman’s engaging sound design.

Director Matthew J. Vargo’s production is a storm of pyrotechnics, fog, and rain. Lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier gives it cracks of lighting and a shadowy sepia wash. Sets and costumes from the Broadway tour conjure Transylvania in 1934.

The audience in Vista this week enjoyed watching Frederick try to breathe life into dead flesh, and the giant monster puppet in the dream sequence. Vargo’s choreography, based on Susan Stroman’s original Broadway work, evokes Vaudeville and Busby Berkeley, tap dancing chorus lines, and schmaltzy folk dances. The chorus really shines in the big tap number that has them shuffling on Frankenstein feet.

Still, some of the gags will make you groan, especially if you’re not familiar with Brooks’ cheeky style, or you bring teenaged kids or your mom along. (There’ll be an awkward car ride on the way home).

The repeated lyric “Tits, tits, tits,” had a few heads spinning on opening night. And the Frau’s big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” and its double-entendre about getting banged and plowed, led to a mix of belly laughs and tittering.  Apparently it’s been a hit with gay men’s choirs, probably because of the line about her boyfriend winning a three-legged race, by himself.

The joke about finally getting a gay bar in Transylvania got little response. The rape scene with the Monster and Elizabeth, a seduction sort of hidden in a cave, and the suggestive song “Deep Love” is semi-funny and disturbing – but only briefly.

Fortunately, the twisted plot in this musical finds resolution in a totally tame climax.

Like its title, the production runs long and be warned that suggestive lyrics make it more frisky than the movie. But there is balance. Savor the polished acting and wit, and the invisible orchestra in the pit that tames the Monster. Brooks’ songs begin to sound like shouting, but the orchestra is so good, you’ll forget they are there.  And enjoy the light-hearted Hermit (Doug Davis in the dual role of Inspector Kemp) who sings “Send Me Somebody” and pours hot soup on the Monster.

And know that you’ll be tap dancing back to the car, making jokes – “Walk this way”- and humming Irving Berlin’s infectious tune “Putting on the Ritz.”


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