Vista, CA---If I were born a Frankenstein, most likely I would want to change my name to say, Frank. But not young Fredrick Von Frankenstein, grandson of the late great Victor Von Frankenstein. No! He merely changed the pronunciation of his name from Frankenstein to herr doctor Frahnken-shteen, a reoccurring and tiresome joke in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” (The Musical), now making it’s first professional appearance at The Moonlight Stage Production’s third show of its 33rd Season. It plays through September 7th. And if you are a fan, I would suggest you trip it to Vista soon.
Brook’s New Musical “Young Frankenstein, is based on 1974 comedy film, a parody, written by Brooks and Wilder and that starred Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman. In fact Larry Raben, who plays Young Frankenstein in this production is made up to look somewhat of a Gene Wilder look-a-like.
Just as a mad recap, it’s 1934 and in Transylvania the party begins with the death of the senior Dr., Dr Victor Frankenstein. But the celebration is short lived when the town’s folk learn that the family name has not died out, but that there is an heir to this madness living and breathing in New York (where else?)
When the young doctor is notified of his inheritance and is invited to go to the family mansion, over many of his own objections, he sails off to Transylvania where we meet up with the hunchback, (“Together Again For the First Time”) Igor or Eye-gore (a terrific Jamie Torcellini) a long time hunchback henchman/ assistant and descendant from the grandfather’s time. Eye-gore convinces the young doctor to take over the ‘family business’ (“Join The Family Business”) by bringing back the dead and, for lack of being redundant, experiment with brains etc. Oops, he gets wrong brain. Ergo, the monster is created.
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein with book by Brooks, and Thomas Meeham, and music and lyrics by Brooks, follows on the heels of Mel Brooks Broadway success, his 2001 “The Producers”. Long ago favorite movie hit “Blazing Saddles” is still etched in my brain. “Young Frankenstein” played for only 485 performances and, at that time (in 2009) the top ticket price was $450.00. It never reached the pinnacle of success that “The Producers” had.
After closing on Broadway it made two successful National Tours and, as mentioned above, it is now in very competent hands at Moonlight Stage Productions under the careful eye of director Matthew J. Vargo who served as assistant choreographer to Susan Stroman on Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”.
Helping this production along, sans the story, are several factors: The huge Broadway sets by Robin Wagner are high class looking and serve the production well taking up much of the wide Moonlight stage and costumes by William Ivey Long are colorful, zany and professional looking.
Saving the best for last the original staging and original choreography by Susan Stroman, with Vargo’s recreation of that choreography along with a few big Broadway production numbers handled by a strong ensemble of talented young folks that make dancing look easy, gives this faux horror spoof the oomph the story lacks. (Leave it to Brooks to bring into this little romp, a Hora)
Several highlights including Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, a classy chorus line number with the cast (including Randall Hickman’s gigantic green faced Monster) dressed to the ‘nines’ in tails, top hats and beautifully coordinated gowns is a standout. “Transylvania Mania” and “He Vas My Boyfriend” follow.
It doesn’t hurt either that the female leads are absolutely sterling and among the most talented yet. In no particular order, Jessica Bernard as Elizabeth is not only beautiful and most effective is young Frankenstein’s New York fiancée (“Please Don’t Touch Me”); she is a sex bomb that loves to love but hates to be touched. She channels sexy. Even the monster is taken with her or should I say he takes her? (Another story)
Noelle Marion is Fredrick’s Transylvanian love interest or rather she is all over him. She is Inga (“Roll In The Hay”) his assistant (right!). And of course we need a Frau (after all we are in the hinterlands) and Tracy Lore is a standout as Frau Blücher. She and Igor are blasts from the past of the Frankenstein ahem, legend and are outstanding.
The guys aren’t shabby either. Leave it to Moonlight to get the best of the best, so far, for their summer musical season. Larry Raben is no stranger to Mel Brooks. He starred in “The Producers” on Broadway and in Las Vegas. He plays Young Frankenstein with conviction and is likeable and naïve to a fault especially with both his female cohorts.
Randall S. Hickman (The Monster) and partner Doug Davis (Inspector Kemp/Hermit), Vista Theatre producers, are giving it their all. Hickman as the giant monster clad in his Elton John like ten-inch platform shoes (even dancing in The Ritz) makes his monster, well, scary in a loveable sort of a way. Frankly, Hickman can do wrong, he's that talented.
Davis is a hoot as Inspector Kemp with his wooden leg limp and mechanical arm. He’s not so bad as the blind hermit either carrying out Brooks’ shticks of pouring hot soup on to the Monster’s, well, private parts. (The musical is not suitable for the young un’s.) There is too much of Brooks’ lowbrow humor with sexual innuendos for the younger set. Even I had to groan at some of them.
Strong technical support comes from Jean-Yves Tessier (Lighting) and Christopher Luessmann (Sound) as the crackle of lightning bolts stabs and rages through the audience with perfect timing and accuracy.
Musical director and conductor Kenneth Gammie’s sounds from the pit are right on and the trio of costume coordinators Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone once again make magic of their skills while makeup designer Kathleen Kenna makes the Monster/Igor/ Frau characters pretty evil looking peeps.
If you think you can’t go another season without seeing The New Mel Brooks Musical “Young Frankenstein”, then you probably won’t find a better production anywhere.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 7th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$50.00