Sorry, “Blazing Saddles” fans, but 1974’s “Young Frankenstein” is Mel Brooks’ best film. It’s stylish insanity from start to finish. So what a treat to discover that Brooks’ 2007 musical-stage adaptation is also big-time entertainment. In Moonlight Stage Company’s outdoor amphitheater in Vista, Young Frankenstein rocks the house, even if the jokes are a bit musty now (“Werewolf? There wolf”) Those familiar with and fond of the film know every line that’s coming, yet they still get laughs. A bonus is the musical score. Brooks wrote that, too, along with the lyrics for the show, and while there’s no Broadway classic here, there’s at least one deliciously lascivious number (“Deep Love”) and the very catchy “Translyvania Mania.” Throw in Susan Stroman’s high-stepping choreography, particularly on the showcase tune “Puttin’ On the Ritz” (credit Irving Berlin, not Brooks, on that one, of course), and you have a people-pleasing night of theater not too far outside Moonlight’s family-friendly confines.
This production, with re-created original direction and choreography by Matthew J. Vargo, also benefits from Robin Wagner’s Broadway sets and costumes by William Ivey Long, and a cast that stands up well against the all-stars from the film, which included Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman. Jessica Bernard is a comic force of nature as the doc’s fiancee, the role Kahn played, and her interplay (and intercourse) with the Monster (Randall Hickman, uproariously menacing) is a laugh riot. Tracy Lore as Frau Blucher (cue horse whinnying here) does Leachman proud, and Larry Raben’s Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“That’s FRONK-IN-STEEN!”) is steady and limber throughout.
A couple of the musical sequences slow the pace of the comic doings – does the blind hermit (Doug Davis) really need his own song? But at least we’re rewarded, as in the blind hermit’s scene with the Monster, with Brooks’ cup of camp overflowing. On the subject of cups overflowing, there’s also a lot of cleavage on stage. Does that surprise you, or do you think “What knockers!” really has something to do with the door to the castle?
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat