2012-03-01 / Dining & Entertainment
Show was ‘monstrously’ good fun
Theater League’s musical version of “Young Frankenstein,” which just completed a brief run at the Fred Kavli Theater, could be more accurately titled “Brooks’ Brain,” because this must be what it’s like to be inside the mind of creator Mel Brooks. The show is everything he is: frantic, loud, fast, over-thetop, bawdy and very, very funny.
Based on Brooks’ 1974 hit motion picture with songs added, “Young Frankenstein” is a broad satire of all of those classic Universal horror pictures of the ’30s and ’40s, most notably “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and “Son of Frankenstein” (1939).
A few characters from those films pop up in the show: the prosthetic, Javert-styled inspector; the blind hermit; and the humpbacked lab assistant, plus other broadly played caricatures from those films.
The show is taken at full throttle throughout with no letups, changes in mood or calming interludes. It’s as if Brooks couldn’t wait to get to the next scene.
The script follows the film closely and devotedly, and why shouldn’t it? “Young Frankenstein” was the only movie I ever saw that had me so overcome with laughter that I was rolling in the aisle.
All of the legendary gags are there: the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” reference (“Pardon me, boy, is this the Transylvania station?”), Frau Blucher’s Pavlovian effect on any horse within earshot and the scene with the hermit that is hilarity-on-a-shtick. All that’s missing is the film’s chiaroscuro lighting (and don’t think that Brooks wouldn’t have loved to have produced the first black-andwhite Broadway musical).
With such a great script to work from, the songs were almost an afterthought. Brooks never fancied himself a songwriter, and it shows.
“Young Frankenstein’s” score is filled with perfunctory knockoffs of old Hollywood musical clichés. All the songs are done like Jimmy Durante would do them, curtain closers that are shrieked to the rafters. There is nothing subtle about any of them.
Although the melodies are uniformly derivative, the lyrics show an improvement over Brooks’ cruder songs in “The Producers.” Highlights included a clever patter song (“The Brain”), a spectacular laboratory scene number (“Life, Life”), a boffo Busby Berkeley Act I closer (“Transylvania Mania”) and a glitzy “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (by Irving Berlin) ensemble tap dance, which actually is better than in the film.
The lead role of the reluctant heir to the Frankenstein legacy is played by A. J. Holmes, a localboy makes- good who used to trod the boards of the Conejo Players and Cabrillo Music Theatre. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan, Holmes is starring in his first professional tour, not a bad beginning for the former Agoura Hills resident.
Holmes’ Frederick pronounces his surname “Fronk-un-steen” to disassociate himself from his ancestor’s monstrous legacy, but to no avail.
Mop-topped and frenetic, Holmes resembles
Robert Downey Jr. in
“Chaplin,” with a strangled voice that reminds one of the old Monty Python “Spanish Inquisition” sketch. He carries off his role splendidly, possessing keen comedy timing and a back-of-the-theater-reaching singing voice.
Holmes’ supporting cast was uniformly excellent: Elizabeth Pawlowski as Frederick’s buxom assistant Inga, Lexie Dorsett as the no-touchy-no-feely fiancee Elizabeth, Caitlin Maloney as fiddle-playing Frau Blucher and a monster of a performance by Rory Donovan as the Creature. Christopher Timson played Igor like a court jester with bad posture doing Al Jolson, while Britt Hancock did double duty as Inspector Kemp and the hermit.
There was much to admire visually in the show. The set design and lighting effects were magnificently evocative. “Young Frankenstein” will never be classic Broadway, but it delivers what the doctor ordered.