by Terrance Mc Arthur
Do you remember the first time you saw the Mel Brooks/Gene Wilder movie Young Frankenstein? It was so different than anything you’d ever seen, and you laughed . . . a lot. Now, imagine seeing it live on stage, with people up there . . . singing and dancing! The laughter level in your brain must be going off the chart! You can have that feeling now at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, thanks to the rollicking Good Company Players production of Young Frankenstein (the musical) playing through November 6.The Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan script is an amplification of the film, added to, moved around, and filled with songs by Brooks (and—Yes! —Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” included right where it should be, and turned into a glorious chorus number). Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Shawn Williams)—who denies his monster-making heritage by pronouncing his name “Frohnk-en-steen”—inherits his grandfather’s castle . . . and a servant, Igor (Michael Fidalgo), and a housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Michelle Olson) [neigh], and a frisky lab assistant, Inga (Meg Clark). Finding his grandfather’s secret laboratory, Frederick begins to make a monster, The Monster (Greg Ruud), who gets loose, terrorizing the town. When Frederick’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Paige Parker (Madeleine Wristen at the performance I saw)), arrives, things get complicated.
Williams has become a one-man repertory company at GCP, growing out of the Junior Company into multiple starring roles. As Frederick, he shines with a cheerful madness. It is easy to see how his medical obsessions become monstrous. He sings, he dances, and he looks like he belongs on that stage.
Igor is a pivotal character, the anchor to much of the comedy. Fidalgo matches blithe innocence with nudge-nudge, wink-wink smirkiness into a bundle of mirth, energizing the “Together Again for the First Time” and “Transylvania Mania” songs.
Clark is bubbly and cute, energetically encouraging Frederick to “Roll in the Hay” and “Listen to Your Heart.” In “Roll in the Hay,” the laughter is aided by the addition of Blacken and Decker (Oh, those names!), a pair of horses played by Brian Rhea and Jeremy Marks.
Frau Blucher [neigh] gets the Lotte Lenya/Maria Ouspenskaya treatment from Olson on “He Was My Boyfriend.” She is imperious and droll.
Ruud is a delight, from the top of his head to the bottom of his highly-lifted boots, as The Monster. He growls and roars with power, and transforms into an eloquent, intelligent speaker when he is given a boost of Frankenstein’s Brain Helper.
Parker was out for a planned absence, but her recent turn as Morticia in Addams Family assures she would fill the Medeline Kahn role well. Wrister was a pocketful of entitlement in her performance, gleefully singing out a word that takes this show firmly into don’t-bring-the-little-kids territory.
Erik Bako filled in for Gordon Moore as Inspector Kemp, the body-scarred veteran of earlier monsters, ably leading the villagers in anger and revolt. Steve Souza is a crack-up as the blind hermit who entertains a large, late-night guest. Peter Hartley bounds across the stage as the spirit of the late Baron, encouraging his grandson to make monsters, the “Family Business.”
Emily Pessano and Robert Sanchez orchestrated all this insanity as co-directors, putting love into every laugh. Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s costumes screamed Thirties and Transylvania, while David Pierce’s sets were rock-solid (it’s a stone castle). Kaye Migaki gets everybody dancing as choreographer, and Terry Lewis coached the vocals.
The favorite lines are there, from “Walk this way” to “Put the candle back” and “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life, at last I’ve found you!” Crank up your laboratory gear to get you to the theatre to see this Halloween Valentine to a beloved movie and the Universal Pictures flicks that inspired it.
Printed programs seldom do more than tell who is involved in the show and give some background information, but there are three words near the bottom of one page of the Young Frankenstein program that have a deep meaning: “For Randy Morris.” Randy –saxophone player, perennial performer in Fresno’s Rogue Festival as half of the Spencer-Morris Group, sender of birthday greeting cards to his friends, and avid supporter of the arts—died a few days before this show opened. The simple mention is a tender tribute to a great guy.
The show plays at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon, in Fresno. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559) 266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.