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It’s a tricky business to take an existing property and adapt it into a completely different medium. For example, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, a film classic from 1976, doesn’t seem like the sort of material that would lend itself to a Broadway musical. After all, it in itself was a spoof on the conventions of horror cinema. In theory, taking material that was specifically designed for film and moving it to the stage shouldn’t be able to retain the properties that made the original so successful. And yet, somehow, Mel Brooks has managed to turn a hilarious comedic film with only one musical number into a hilarious theatrical production that is wall-to-wall music.
Now playing at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, this update somehow adheres very closely to the original film while feeling like it’s always belonged on the stage. Honestly, I think I may even prefer this version. With a never-ending barrage of fast-paced and smart dialogue, as well as masterfully timed comedic performances, gorgeous sets and inspired special effects, I didn’t miss the original film at all. That’s the sign of a successful adaptation.
When famed professor anatomy Frederick Frankenstein (it’s pronounced “Franensteen”) is called to Transylvania due to his grandfather’s death, he slowly finds himself sucked into the traditions of his family. Namely, reanimation of the dead. His grandfather was Victor Franenstein, creator of the infamous Monster, and after a show-stopping dream sequence, he begins to realize that his destiny may follow the same path. With the assistance of Igor (now pronounced “Eyegor”) and buxom lab assistant Inga, Frederick creates his own monster which quickly escapes and starts terrorizing the villagers. Frederick must now deal with the consequences of his actions, all while falling in love with Inga and dealing with his high-maintenance fiance.
Of course, when it comes to productions like this, the plot doesn’t really matter. What matters is how entertaining the whole thing is, and in this case, it’s all a lot of fun. There are several true show-stoppers in this production, but the absolute highlight is the adaption of the one song from the original, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” This is an unbelievable showcase for the entire cast, featuring not only an amazing dance routine, but special effects unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the theater. Worth seeing for this sequence alone, this is the first musical number I’ve ever seen get it’s own standing ovation.
Expertly choreographed and performed, these routines work thanks to the amazingly talented cast. Everybody on stage seems to be having a great time, and that translates to a great time for the audience. The material is just so much fun, I can’t imagine that they’re not having as much fun as we are. The dialogue and situations are so ridiculous, it’s impossible not to be entertained. The humor comes at the audience so quick, it’s often hard to take it all in. There is a lot of very clever wordplay that goes flying out with no pause for acknowledgment before the next joke. There’s also a great deal of physical humor to accompany the verbal wit.
I loved the mixture of different types of humor. However, I have to admit that the material is really silly, and as such, occasionally might seem a little too immature for some. Personally, I found there to be a level of sophistication to the immaturity. Having said that, keep in mind that there are a lot of double entendres in this production. I’m sure most kids would love the play as a whole, and probably wouldn’t even understand a lot of this material. But I feel like I should point out that it is there if that’s an issue.
Overall, this is one of the most entertaining productions I’ve seen in a really long time. It’s not just hilarious, but features great music, outstanding performances, and perfect sets and special effects for the material. Mel Brooks has crafted the perfect follow-up for his previous smash hit “The Producers.” I can’t recommend this enough. The Orange County Performing Arts Center will be presenting this fantastic show now through September 25.