His new musical, "Young Frankenstein, switched on for its much-anticipated opening Thursday at The Paramount for three hours of high-voltage, electrifying entertainment. It runs weekends through Sept. 1.
And this experiment includes electricity and chemistry in the familiar story of Frederick Frankenstein, a highly esteemed surgeon who inherits a castle from his deranged grandfather, Victor, and then faces the question of whether to join the family business and reanimate the dead and marry his sexy lab assistant, Inga, or just sell off the estate and return home to his rich yet aloof girlfriend, Elizabeth.
The stunningly talented "Young Frankenstein" cast sizzles and spikes with sex appeal and spins the jokes one after another as if they are in some sort of comedic centrifuge.
The jokes. The slapschtick. The puns. We all know they are coming. The audience emits a collective groan when Inspector Kemp says the operation in Vienna "cost me an arm and a leg," to restore body parts lost to a previous monster. But it's classic Mel Brooks. We laugh, in spite of ourselves. We laugh because we love it.
Some of the jokes, word play and double entendres are delivered straight, as in the original movie version of "Young Franksenstein," ("What a set of knockers!" "Why, thank you, doctor.") But the beauty of the musical is that turns of phrase can be turned so wonderfully into tunes.
That trick works especially well with music that is quite reminiscent of vaudeville. Each song seems packed with puntastic punctuations and rowdy rhymes, such as, "When your genitalia is known to fail ya," from "There is Nothing Like the Brain."
As with most musicals, there's a signature song and each character has his or her own theme.
For instance, the spark of Brooks' genius comes to light when he gives Frau Blucher, played hilariously by Andrea Martin, the song "He Vas My Boyfriend." In this lament on the death of Victor Von Frankenstein, the frau takes us on a head-spinning ride of sexual innuendos, in this bodacious, bawdy and raucous number. The tune wraps up with a pun as Frau Blucher says why she stayed with Victor, a brute of a man. "Maybe it was his posture. He was always erect."
Though she is introduced on stage with the number "Please Don't Touch Me," Will and Grace star Megan Mullally's signature song comes later. Mullally plays the vain, voluptuous vixen Elizabeth with playful brilliance, and her entrance for the number "Surprise" had her, to borrow from Tom Waits, looking like a moving violation in all pink, cleavage and glitter. But her signature song comes later than that when she belts out "Deep Love" (no explanation necessary) after being seduced by The Monster. That number all but red-lines on the laugh meter.
As for The Monster, played by Shuler Hensley, the signature piece is "Puttin' on the Ritz," a larger-than-life tap number enhanced with strobe lights and a cast of dancers clad in clumsy monster shoes.
Inga is played by Sutton Foster whose signature song, "Roll in the Hay," showcases her sinewy legs and whose gorgeous voice we could have heard a bit more of in this production. She seems a bit underutilized.
Igor, played by Christopher Fitzgerald, manages to come close to stealing several scenes with his expertly timed one-liners and singing voice. He's wonderful in "Transylvania Mania," but his big hit is by far "Together Again for the First Time," which he sings with Frederick.
Frederick is played by Roger Bart. To save the best for last, Bart definitely reveals star quality here. Though he has played with high regard subordinate roles in such Broadway productions as "The Producers," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and "Triumph of Love," Bart fills this leading role with talent to spare.
He said in an earlier interview that he wouldn't try to be Gene Wilder but bring his own touch to the role, and he certainly does that. He plays a brain surgeon with disarming boyish charm, as opposed to the more crazed version made famous by Wilder ... and that's a good thing. Does Bart have a signature song? Not really, because every song and every scene is so infused with his persona that he becomes the gel that holds the production together.
The creative team of Brooks and Robert F.X. Sillerman of "The Producers" fame, with help from director and choreographer Susan Stroman, might find that their experiment of turning a hit movie into a hit musical is a success. The monster does live, and he may go on to become a "monsterpiece."
Reporter Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or email@example.com.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at The Paramount, 911 Pine St., Seattle. $25 to $75, 206-292-ARTS, www.theparamount.com.
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