“The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein,” presented in its local premiere at the Schuster Center by the Victoria Theatre Association’s Good Samaritan and Miami Valley Hospitals Broadway Series, lacks the comedic ingenuity and melodic strength of Brooks’ historic, lucrative 2001 adaptation of “The Producers,” but it’s still a highly entertaining, impressively designed show that remains faithful to the classic 1974 film.
Adapted in 2007 by Brooks and Thomas Meehan based on Brooks’ Oscar-nominated screenplay co-written by Gene Wilder, “Young Frankenstein” tells the funny if slight story of New York brain surgeon Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronkensteen”) who travels to spooky Transylvania to claim his inheritance. Along the way, with able support from his trusty sidekick Igor, sexy assistant Inga and his legendary grandfather’s ex-lover Frau Blucher, Frederick heeds his ancestors’ advice and creates a monster. Naturally, his monstrous handiwork wreaks havoc across the countryside, eventually kidnapping and falling in love with Frederick’s glamorous fiancée Elizabeth.
The nostalgic appeal that stems from being reunited with the film’s clever jokes and sight gags (such as the gigantic door knockers, revolving bookcase and horse whinnies at the sheer utterance of Blucher’s name) is a huge plus because Brooks and Meehan have difficulty expanding and sustaining the plot’s momentum over two and a half hours. They particularly opted not to spoof musical theater conventions a la “The Producers” or provide a deeper backstory for the characters. In fact, there really isn’t anything fresh that revitalizes this tale besides its original songs, solely composed by Brooks, which are merely serviceable rather than sensational. In turn, as in the film, the finest moment belongs to Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” brilliantly conceived by director/choreographer Susan Stroman and sharply recreated by choreographer James Gray. The imaginatively show-stopping number, worth the price of admission and just as good here as it was on Broadway thanks to a razzle dazzle ensemble, nearly rivals Stroman’s exuberant staging of “Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers.”
Director Jeff Whiting, working with Stroman’s fantastic original design team consisting of scenic artist Robin Wagner, costumer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski and sound designer Jonathan Deans, dutifully recreates her witty, vaudevillian vision and coaxes first-rate performances across the board. A.J. Holmes is a perfectly high strung Frederick with an appropriately astute Gene Wilder sensibility. The scene-stealing Christopher Timson portrays Igor with terrifically impish enthusiasm. The lovely Elizabeth Pawlowski is an adorably sweet Inga. Pat Sibley, an effortless comedienne with great timing, is a delightfully authentic Frau Blucher. The imposing Rory Donovan effectively juggles the Monster’s humorous and threatening characteristics. Lexie Dorsett, suitably swanky and divalicious as Elizabeth, hilariously emphasizes the innuendo within “Deep Love.” Britt Hancock shines in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the Hermit. As Victor, Frederick’s grandfather, Wright State University alumnus Jerome Doerger notably leads the jubilant “Join the Family Business.”
“Young Frankenstein” isn’t on par with “The Producers,” but it’s a naughty roll in the hay intended to tickle your funny bone as only Brooks can.
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein continues through Oct. 9 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $37-$92. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com