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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

Young Frankenstein
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's review of The Miracle Worker


Becca Gottlieb, Adam Vargas, Kurtis W. Overby,
Kathi Osborne and Brad York

Mel Brooks' 1974 film Young Frankenstein is a comedy cinema gem. A huge hit at the box office, it was a loving homage to the monster movies of the 1930s and '40s, centered specifically on the Universal series of Frankenstein films. After Brooks' huge stage success in 2001 with the adaptation of his film The Producers, it was only natural that he would tap into his film library for a follow up. But with Young Frankenstein's hit film history and memorable characters to live up to, and saddled with an inferior score, the screen to stage transfer for Young Frankenstein didn't fare as well as The Producers, running just over a year on Broadway. It's a shame it didn't have a longer run, as the musical features almost all of the famous comic lines and humorous bits from the film and the end result is a fun, frenzied and familiar romp. The Arizona Broadway Theatre is presenting the Arizona premiere of the show in a bang up production with impressive creative elements, solid direction and an impeccable cast that wrings every vaudeville-style comic moment and bawdy nuance from the script.

The plot follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Kurtis W. Overby), the grandson of a mad scientist who created a monster out of various body parts that went on to terrorize the countryside. Frederick wants nothing to do with his ancestors but agrees to go to Transylvania to inspect the property he learns he has inherited. There he meets a hunchback servant named Igor (Brad York), the frightening housekeeper Frau Blucher (Kathi Osborne), and Inga (Becca Gottlieb), a beautiful young woman with a local community college degree in Laboratory Science. After reading his grandfather's journals, Frederick becomes intrigued and before you know it, this odd quartet of characters is in action reanimating the dead, with hysterical circumstances. With a never ending stream of jokes, already familiar dialogue directly from the film that has already entered our vernacular, and numerous song and dance numbers thrown in along the way, Young Frankenstein is ultimately a fun-filled laugh riot that overcomes the few sub-par songs in Brooks' score.

Director Tralen Doler whips his actors up to a comic frenzy, delivering every zinger from the film with impeccable timing and even making most of the average songs excel. Also, the cast doesn't attempt to completely mimic or mirror the actors from the film, or spoof the beloved characters, instead adding their own touches while at the same time paying tribute to the original actors.

Kurtis W. Overby easily gets across the eccentric, brilliant and excited parts of the intelligent yet socially inept Frederick. While Frederick is relegated to being the "straight man" for most of Brooks' and book co-writer Thomas Meehan's jokes, Overby's expressive eyes add an element that makes the comic bits soar. He also is a talented dancer and singer and excels during his many song and dance numbers. Brad York's Igor is simply a comic delight. York has perfect comic timing and a rich voice and gets laughs by just the way he slinks across the stage. Overby and York's duet of "Together Again for the First Time" is a borsht belt gem. Cassandra Norville Klaphake makes Elizabeth, Frederick's over-sexed fiancée, truly original, bringing a more sophisticated air to the part then Madeline Kahn did in the film, which works, especially with the affected "Continental" accent she uses. While Elizabeth isn't in as much of the show as some of the other characters, Klaphake milks the humor and nails her two somewhat naughty songs with seductive glee and one of the biggest and clearest voices in the Phoenix area. Overby, York and Klaphake have all worked together for several years now as part of the ABT creative and business team, and their friendship and ease in working closely with each other in their "day jobs" comes across on stage.

Kathi Osborne is sublime as battleship Frau Blucher, her wide eyes and comical facial expressions bringing the part to bawdy life. Her Marlene Dietrich inspired delivery of "He Vas My Boyfriend" is uproariously funny. Becca Gottlieb easily makes Inga the requisite sexy, lusty and sweet dimwit, with a hilarious European accent. While she effortlessly makes her first number with Frederick and Igor, "Roll in the Hay," a comic delight, her second act solo, "Listen to Your Heart," would be more effective if she didn't completely drop Inga's kooky accent to sing it. Brad Rupp and Sam Ramirez add a nice amount of fun to the smaller parts of Inspector Kemp and the blind Hermit that the Monster encounters in the second act, with Rupp especially funny as the insufferable Inspector.

The entire group of wacky performers bring these characters vividly to life, but Adam Vargas as the Monster is the icing on this comic confection. His transformation from grunting monster to leading man is a revelation, and his song and dance contribution to the second act is one of the major highlights of the show.

Once again, Arizona Broadway Theatre delivers top notch design elements. Jack Magaw's scenic design delivers a neverending parade of set pieces, including a lovely silhouette of the Frankenstein castle on a hill at the top of the show. There are a lot of sets in the show, and many scene changes, so Magaw has chosen wisely to not over-do most of the design, which speeds up the set changes. However, his elaborate design for the laboratory set is quite effective. Sublime lighting by Tim Monson uses lush purples and blues to portray the many night-time settings and Jason Lynn's sound design has some great sound effects that have hilarious results. Morgan Andersen's costumes are on par with the rest of the creative elements, with lush outfits that fit perfectly in the 1930s time frame of the story. Together the elements all add up to a slick, but not overly cluttered design.

While it may not have been a hit on Broadway, ABT's production of Young Frankenstein is hysterical, escapist entertainment with a perfect cast that turns the whole affair into an affectionate crowd-pleaser.

Young Frankenstein runs through June 22nd, 2014, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria. Tickets can be purchased at azbroadway.org or by calling (623) 776 – 8400.

Directed & Choreographed by: Tralen Doler
Music Direction: JR McAlexander
Scenic Design: Jack Magaw
Lighting Design: Tim Monson
Costume Design: Morgan Andersen
Sound Design: Jason Lynn
Stage Management: Rachel Kieras
Artistic Producer and Casting: Cassandra Klaphake
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Ziggy: DJ Petrosino
Inspector Hans Kemp: Brad Rupp
Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein: Kurtis W. Overby
Elizabeth: Cassandra Norville Klaphake
Igor: Brad York
Inga: Becca Gottlieb
Frau Blucher: Kathi Osborne
Victor Frankenstein: Greg Kalafatas
The Monster: Adam Vargas
Hermit: Sam Ramirez
Ensemble: Quinten Patrick Busey, Colin Shea Denniston, Diego Diaz, Lynzee Jaye Paul 4Man, Greg Kalafatas, Katie Larson, Rachel Perin, DJ Petrosino, Sam Ramirez, Adam Shaff, Laurie Trygg, Alissa Tucker


Photo: Mike Benedetto / Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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