Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Young Frankenstein
Mesa Community College
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Frankenstein, Steel Magnolias, Annie, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead


Jared Kitch and JT Ziervogel
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Having directed a series of hit comic films over an almost 30-year period, it's safe to say that Mel Brooks is a genius of comedy. However, he has been hit and miss with his stage versions of his movies. After he found huge success in 2001 with the stage adaptation of his film The Producers, it was only natural that he would tap into his vast comedy movie library for a follow up. His decision to turn his 1974 film Young Frankenstein into a big stage musical seemed a no-brainer, especially since it's full of memorable characters, witty and often quoted one liners, and many wacky situations. But it only ran on Broadway for just over a year. Fortunately, the musical has had a healthy life in regional theatre, including Mesa Community College's production which features a fun and talented cast, rich creative elements, and an abundance of comical shenanigans.

The plot of the musical mirrors the film and follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, 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. He meets a hunchback servant, Igor, the frightening housekeeper Frau Blücher, and Inga, a beautiful young woman with a local community college degree in Laboratory Science. After reading his grandfather's journals, Frederick becomes intrigued and eventually changes his mind. Before you know it, this odd quartet of characters is in action reanimating the dead, with hysterical circumstances.

Young Frankenstein is a loving homage to the Universal series of Frankenstein films of the 1930s and '40s. While the Mel Brooks score is only serviceable, which may have been a reason for its original short Broadway run, it does feature plenty of kooky characters, many vaudeville-style comic moments, and a lot of bawdiness in the hilarious script. The book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan features many of the already familiar lines of dialogue from the film along with a few new and funny supporting characters. The humorous book, along with several comical and upbeat song and dance numbers, helps to overcome some of the lesser songs in Brooks' score.

Directors Allyson Van Patten and Sue Anne Lucius have cast this production with a talented group of actors who deliver rich and very funny portrayals that are close enough to the beloved movie actors' portrayals to give a hint of familiarity for fans of the film while also adding original bits to make them fresh. The only quibble I have is that some of the actors' humorous accents aren't consistent throughout. Van Patten and Lucius keep the pace of the production fast, with good use of Amanda Embry's exceptional set design, which includes a gorgeous backdrop of the Frankenstein castle high on a hill, an elaborate laboratory set, and numerous other large set elements that quickly set the location of each scene. Cody Soper's lighting is stunning and uses both bright and lush colors for the upbeat moments along with deep blues and purples to portray the moody night scenes. The costume designs by Aurelie Flores tie into the time period of the piece and are also a fitting homage to the familiar film characters. The sound design by Tyler Forée ensures that every lyric and line of dialogue is heard loud and clear.

JT Ziervogel's great comic timing works well for Frederick. He instills the role with a sense of eccentricity and smarts along with a big dose of excitability. He also has a beautiful singing voice and great stage presence. Ariana Lucius infuses Inga with an abundance of charm, a high amount of sexuality, and some bright vocals. As the Monster, Jared Kitch is an absolute crowd pleaser, with an ability to turn a series of grunts into comic gold. Zachary Cacciacarro is equally good, with perfect comic timing and expressive and humorous gestures, as Igor. While she isn't in that much of the show, with a humorous "continental" accent and a beautiful singing voice, Paige Stabley is delicious as Frederick's oversexed fiancée Elizabeth. Angelica McGrew is very fun as the mysterious Frau Blücher, and Sergio Santa Cruz is hilarious as the blind hermit. In smaller parts, Zack Diepstraten, Darryl Poenisch and Huy Ly provide some funny moments as the insufferable Inspector Kemp, Frederick's grandfather, and the town idiot, respectively.

While Young Frankenstein may not be a perfect musical, it has many bright, bawdy and humorous moments and culminates in a fun-filled laugh riot. With a very good cast, exceptional creative aspects, and clean-cut direction, Mesa Community College's production proves that even if a show wasn't a big hit on Broadway it can still be fun and crowd-pleasing in regional theatres.

Young Frankenstein, through November 3, 2018, at the Mesa Community College Performing Arts Center, 1520 S Longmore, Mesa AZ. Tickets and information for this show and for upcoming productions can be ordered at 480-461-7172 or at www.mesacc.edu/arts/events.

Directed by Allyson Van Patten and Sue Anne Lucius Choreographed by: Ashley Harkey
Music Direction: Cathy Hauan
Scenic Design: Amanda Embry
Lighting Design: Cody Soper
Costume Design: Aurelie Flores
Sound Design: Tyler Forée

Cast:
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: JT Ziervogel
The Monster: Jared Kitch
Igor: Zachary Cacciacarro
Inga: Ariana Lucius
Elizabeth Benning: Paige Stabley
Frau Blücher: Angelica McGrew
Inspector Hans Kemp: Zack Diepstraten
Dr. Victor von Frankenstein: Darryl Poenisch
Ziggy: Huy Ly
Harold the Hermit: Sergio Santa Cruz
Transylvania Quartet: Djuro Baich. Cody Johnston. Levi Medina. Aidan Vincent, Sergio Santa Cruz
Ensemble: Djuro Baich, Victoria Bengerter, Xelha Castrejon, Christopher Corn, Jamie Graves, Cody Johnston, Autumn Kelleher, Michael Kunz, Brenda Leonhardt, Rachel Lunt, Samantha Maxwell, Levi Medina, Alonzo Regalado, Isabella Santa Cruz, Sergio Santa Cruz, Tracy Schofield, Lindsey Stevens, Alexa Stuart, Aidan Vincent


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