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Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein Explores Familiar Territory

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The monster leads the Young Frankenstein cast in the show's big number, Putting on the Ritz.'

The monster leads the Young Frankenstein cast in the show's big number, Putting on the Ritz.'

The Mel Brooks' musical Young Frankenstein premiered in Los Angeles last week at the Pantages Theatre for a limited two-week run. The stage production is based on Brooks' 1974 film, which itself was a reimagining of Mary Shelley's classic novel.
Roger Bart--you'll probably recognize him from Desperate Housewives or The Stepford Wives--leads the cast as Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced "Fronkensteen"), a New York brain surgeon and professor, who inherits a castle and laboratory in Transylvania from his mad-scientist grandfather, Victor Von Frankenstein. He goes to Transylvania to close out the estate, but madcap hijinks ensure, and soon enough, he finds himself experimenting in the lab with the monster and with assistant Inge (Anne Horak). Bart proves himself to be an able song-and-dance man, but he played the role a tad too straightlaced for our tastes. Standout performances include Beth Curry as Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein's monster-loving fiancee who plays her role to the hilt, as do Cory English (Igor) and Joanna Glushak (Frau Blucher), the houseservants who came with the crazy castle. In one of the funnier numbers, Frau Blucher confesses that she was in love with the older herr doktor Frankenstein in "He Vas My Boyfriend." For this musical, Brooks also changes up the orchestration for the cast's iconic song and dance scene with Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz."

The show, with a running time of more than 2.5 hours, had its moments of mirth, but it navigated all-too-familiar Brooksian waters. At times, it felt like a producer's game of "How many blonde and titty jokes can we squeeze into the show"? Other scenes felt completely extraneous, especially the last two numbers of Act I: "Welcome to Transylvania" and "Transylvania Mania."

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The hermit scene--where Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley) happens upon a remote cabin of a blind, lonely hermit--could have been snipped right out of the show without anyone noticing. C'mon the shtick of a blind guy spilling hot soup on the monster might have been funny in the 70s, but that evening, it just felt like old, dated slapstick.

Fans of The Producers will probably love Young Frankenstein, as will those fans who've seen Blazing Saddles a thousand times. For the rest of us, might as well wait for a rerun of the Brooks-Gene Wilder version on TV.

Young Frankenstein
Pantages Theatre
Through Aug. 8
Tickets $25-$85
Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 8 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm & 6:30 pm.