'Young Frankenstein' is campy fun

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mel Brooks is not stupid. After transforming his movie “The Producers” into a mega-hit Broadway musical, I’m sure he eyed all of his other past creations, deciding which would be the next cash cow. And so “Young Frankenstein” has had a musical facelift by its creator and has been let loose on the theater-going public, with hilarious results.
It’s appropriate, and even trendy, in today’s economy to reduce, reuse and recycle, and in the case of Brooks’ green-skinned monster, a fourth “R” — re-animate. Brooks has done all those with the plot and characters remaining intact, and with famous phrases and scenes blown out into full-length songs.
In fact, much of the story is now sung, and even the spoken parts are often woven into musical underscoring, making the piece rather operatic. “Opera Buffa” has been around for centuries, but it took Mel Brooks, with his combination of genius and arrested development, to invent this new art form I’m calling “Opera Innuendo” which includes clever rhymes and frequent, only slightly-veiled, sexual references.
Since many audience members are already familiar with the famous movie lines, this has made Brooks’ job even easier. The crowd that packed opening night at Charlotte’s Belk Theater were already laughing when they saw the door with giant knockers and Igor’s movable hump, and the dropped brain, so the ensuing dialogue seemed unnecessary.
“Young Frankenstein” has brought back the winning “Producers” team with Thomas Meehan joining Brooks in writing the book and Susan Stroman serving again as director and choreographer. And the dancing is delightful, especially “Putting on the Ritz,” which goes way beyond its brief movie scene to becoming a full-blown Fred Astaire-ish dancing spectacular. When the seven-foot tall monster, played well by Preston Truman Boyd, sheds his clumsy, jerky stride and suddenly and gracefully tap dances with the company (all of them in tuxes and giant monster shoes) one must just surrender to the silliness.
Christopher Ryan portrays Frederick Frankenstein (that’s frahnkunSTEEN) with understated annoyance as his character inherits the castle of his famous, ghoulish and deceased grandfather. Joanna Glushak is Frau Blucher, the housekeeper and former lover of the elder Dr. Frankenstein (that’s FrankenSTINE). Glushak has the most outstanding singing performance of the night with the rather sado-masochistic “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
Understudy Danielle Kelsey proved she was up to the task of filling in as the busty lab assistant Inga, a role which required “rolling in ze hay” and yodeling, both of which she accomplished with ease. Frederick’s frigid, then thawing, fiancée Elizabeth is performed by Janine Divita. When she is on the dock seeing Frederick off for his Transylvanian voyage, the song “Please Don’t Touch Me” includes a clever dance with the other voyagers that demonstrates Stromen’s choreographic gifts.
Based on audience applause at the end of the show, the favorite actor was Cory English as Igor (that’s EYEgor). He lit up every scene he was in, which is quite a feat when every scene is already so bright and flashy. And I mean that literally. With the electric lab equipment and lightning and fireworks the Blumenthal’s power bill will probably jump this month.
The score is almost all upbeat, and I found myself tapping my foot much of the time to unmemorable tunes. The ephemeral score just lets you live in the moment. If you’re looking for pure entertainment and nothing profound, this is a show for you.
I wonder which of Mel Brooks’ movies will be set to music next. I vote for “Blazing Saddles.” The scene where they eat beans around the campfire would lend some interesting musical results.
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“Young Frankenstein” continues at the Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St. in Charlotte, through March 20.
Tickets begin at $20. Call 704-372-1000 or go to www.BlumenthalCenter. org.