Young Frankenstein -- Theater Review

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In a classic case of life imitating fiction, Mel Brooks' out-of-control updating of his iconic film comedy "Young Frankenstein" embraces whole new generations of theatergoers with nonstop energy and unrestrained effort.

Appropriately, the method Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan have used in creating this justly celebrated new musical is remarkably similar to the method Dr. Frankenstein used in creating the monster: Take bleeding chunks of bodies and shtick from wherever they can be dragged in.

Using a repertoire of shtick and smirk that ranges from historical character actors like Fritz Feld to ones entirely of his own creation, Roger Bart's Dr. Frankenstein does the heavy lifting at first in a succession of routines that gets the audience going. But eventually, Bart fades away as his energy subsides and even his "frohnkensteen" obsession gets lost in the shuffle.

Cory English's Igor leaves the audience begging for more with his galumphing antics and movable hump, and Joanna Glushak nearly steals the show with her inane antics and eerily Cher-like look as the gruesome, violin-playing Frau Blucher. Shuler Hensley does the Monster perfectly, from soup to nuts.

Although Beth Curry does her manic best to bring back at least some of the magic of the film's Madeline Kahn, Anne Horak's Inga, despite her heroic yodeling and fetching wholesomeness, is no substitute for Teri Garr.

In the secondary roles, Kevin Ligon as grandfather Victor Frankenstein and Brad Oscar as the blind hermit create instant classics.

Director Susan Stroman has managed to capture everything Brooks and Meehan poured into their book with a production that scampers relentlessly and breathlessly for the whole night. Her choreography for a well-trained dance troupe, featuring a gaggle of tall leggy blondes, gives the kind of high-art legitimacy to the evening that Brooks so often longs for.

Musically, Brooks' serviceable score is nothing to write home about aside from Irving Berlin's "Putting on the Ritz," which triggers a sequence of showstopping numbers that includes a shadow dance that Fred Astaire only could have dreamed about. And though it's a treat to see Igor handling the French horn as if it were a cheerleader's baton, cutting out the glorious call that ends the movie is profound loss.

Audience members born in the past 20-30 years had better bone up on their trivial pursuit. In addition to the film, references to dinosaurs like Jimmy Durante abound, and when the 1933 movie "Flying Down to Rio" figured in an important gag line on opening night, the audience was silent.

Venue: Pantages Theatre, Hollywood (Through Aug. 8)
Cast: Roger Bart, Shuler Hensley, Cory English, Brad Oscar, Beth Curry, Joanna Glushak, Anne Horak
Book: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan
Music-lyrics: Mel Brooks
Director-choreographer: Susan Stroman
Original music supervision/arrangements: Glen Kelly
Set designer: Robin Wagner
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound designer: Jonathan Deans
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