THEATER REVIEW: Moonlight’s “Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein”

If you’ve been wondering what ever happened to Gene Wilder, he’s in Vista, Calif., playing Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced FRONKenSTEEN), the prominent neurologist from New York.

Well, OK, it’s Larry Raben, who looks like the character in Mel Brooks’ classic “Young Frankenstein,” playing the role in the musical version of the 1974 film through Sept. 7 at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre.

“Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein” has the same goofy characters, corny jokes and bawdy outlook as the film, so it may not be the best place to take the little ones. But for fans of the film, this is a chance to see old friends live onstage.

Matthew J. Vargo directs and choreographs the comedy originally directed and choreographed by Tony-winner Susan Stroman. Vargo was a swing (a singer/ dancer who can play multiple roles) in the national tour and has acted as dance captain and assistant choreographer in successive tours since.

You remember the story: Dr. Frankenstein, a renowned brain specialist, gets word that his grandfather, the crackpot Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Johnny Fletcher), has died and he must go to Transylvania to take care of the estate.

Waving goodbye to his lovely but vain fiancee Elizabeth (Jessica Bernard, who sings “Please Don’t Touch Me” because she’s afraid of mussing clothing, hair or lipstick), he sets sail for Europe.

At the Transylvania station, he meets my favorite character, hunchback Igor (pronounced EYE-gor and played to hilarious effect by Jamie Torcellini), and the young and sexy Inga (Noelle Marion), who suggests a “Roll In The Hay” (hayride) to the castle. (Wait till you see their steeds!)

At the castle, they are met by the housekeeper, Frau Blücher (Tracy Lore), a sour-looking dragon the mere mention of whose name frightens those horses (Kyle Hawk and Travis Morse).

Frankenstein hires Inga as his assistant, and soon they find the secret bookcase access to the basement lab, where they find Frau Blücher playing the violin and mourning Victor’s death. “He Vas My Boyfriend,” she sings, and with lyrics like this it’s no surprise: “He vas a monster at the least/his midnight bangings never ceased.”

Frankenstein, who has been studying the brain for decades, now has the chance to try brain transplantation, to the hilarious results we all expect. (Randall Hickman’s big green-faced Monster is a force to be reckoned with.)

Vargo has put together a terrific cast. Raben is excellent as Frankenstein, the scientist a bit out of his depths in Transylvania. Bernard’s Inga is exactly as she should be – cute, sexy and a fine actor, singer and dancer. Lore is a stitch as Frau Blücher.

Randall Hickman is a scream as the singing, dancing bon vivant of a monster. Doug Davis is a gas as the wooden-armed Inspector Kemp and as the blind Hermit who prays “Please Send Me Someone.”

But it’s Torcellini’s Igor (“Walk this way”) who steals the show, just as Marty Feldman stole the film.

The best thing here is the choreography. Frankenstein says at one point “My ancestors were crazy – but boy! could they dance!” and Vargo’s choreography – and these fine dancers – certainly demonstrate that.

I love Mel Brooks, but let’s face it: he’s not the greatest composer around. Give him points for adapting the right musical style to the content of each song, but those lyrics are pretty lame. If I had my druthers, I’d cut a few songs in the overlong first act.

But this is a handsome production, with sets and costumes from the national touring show, a fine 13-member orchestra led by Kenneth Gammie and a crackerjack tech team (Jean-Yves Tessier and Christopher Luessmann) to handle lighting and sound, respectively.

With that, fine singing actors and great direction, “Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein” is a great show for a summer evening. But don’t send the little ones.

The details

“Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein” plays through Sept. 7 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.