The setup: You may remember a massive hit musical, The Producers, that was based on a Mel Brooks film that, by the time this century turned, not really all that many people remembered. You might not realize that Brooks wrote all the songs for that show, not just "Springtime for Hitler" (which was in the original fake musical in the original movie). He's very musically talented!
Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are probably considered Brooks' biggest hits, and I don't know whether there'll ever be a musical version of Blazing Saddles, but YF makes a nice, fun musical, and it's stomping into Arizona right now at Arizona Broadway Theatre.
The execution: Director Tralen Doler got lucky with the casting for this one (not implying that everyone didn't also work super-hard): Adam Vargas, whose impressive stature has impressed us in the past ("Ah! Sweet mystery of life!"), makes a sympathetic, subtly communicative Monster, Kurtis W. Overby is an appropriately low-key but charming Doctor F, and Kathi Osborne (Patsy's Bridal Shower), Becca Gottlieb, and Cassandra Norville Klaphake play the very different but equally sexy and belty women in his life with animation and humor.
Kudos to Brooks for, in general, creating three-dimensional female characters who are important to the storyline and look like they're really fun to play, even though most of them have to project a really specific and somewhat archaic sexuality -- it's a Borscht-Belt thing. They aren't any stupider than the male leads (if anything, they're smarter), and that's something to be grateful for, as well.
There's also Igor (pronounced Eye-gor), Dr. Frankenstein's inconsistently helpful assistant, who's played by Brad York, a very funny and engaging actor who's also been forthcoming about a benign medical condition that helps him channel Marty Feldman's iconic film portrayal. Mostly, though, just having York around is a significant kick in the pants for the overall energy of the goings-on.
Not every scrap of YF's broad physical humor that was nailed on screen (for example, the secret door sequence pictured here) is quite as hysterical as you might fondly recall it, but there are so many zippy extras, such as the chorus' shoes in "Puttin' on the Ritz," that you will feel sated indeed.
The other thing Mel Brooks has all over a lot of other writers of musical theater is that, maybe as a result of structuring all those films, he has a good sense of where to put a song (which is good, because there are a ton of them). I was telling myself that during intermission and then, actually, the first three numbers of Act Two felt a bit excessive and tightly spaced. But intermission seems a little late in the plot, too. Things went back on track quickly, in any case.
Other high points are a smallish but well-coordinated chorus whose dance moves look genuine and motivated and cute costumes by Morgan Andersen that bring appropriate color to what started out (even in 1974) as a black-and-white film, without taking away that classic '30s horror-movie feeling. And the live orchestra, conducted in this case by JR McAlexander and Adam Berger, is always such a vital and helpful part of an ABT show that taking it for granted can be a hazard.
The verdict: This show, and ABT's production of it, is 110% pure silliness but also 70% pretty darn raunchy, so don't bring the small children. We weren't sure whether the occasional patron slipping out the exit had been overcome by a potent cocktail (there's a special called The Monster that sounds deadly), just needed a potty break, or had finally had enough crotch- and boob-grabbing with associated lyrics and dialogue. (By 2014 standards, it's not that big a deal for grownups, and also, we have the Internet now -- so either your browser or the box office will be happy to help you figure out what you're getting into.)
That said, Young Frankenstein is as light as a Transylvanian entertainment can be. Jump in your cart and take a raucous hayride up to Peoria for a good way to kick off the summer.
Young Frankenstein continues through Sunday, June 22, at 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Dining and non-dining admission are available. Prices vary with demand but start at $37 to $62; purchase here or at 623-776-8400.
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