On Theater: Adapting classic for musical

How do you adapt one of the funniest movies of all time into a Broadway musical? For one thing, you make it even funnier.

Mel Brooks accomplished this with his musical version of "The Producers," one of his earlier movies. It was a huge success, so much so that it was thought he couldn't possibly top it — especially since the comedian is now an octogenarian.

There are two great comedies by Brooks apart from "The Producers." One is the Western spoof "Blazing Saddles" and the other is "Young Frankenstein." Brooks opted to turn the latter into a Broadway show, and the results are being hilariously presented at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan knew their original script was a treasure, so they kept most of it intact — the "walk this way," "what hump?" and "roll in the hay" gags remain in embellished form. What's new, and gloriously so, in this revised incarnation are some highly original choreographic moves (including an eye-popping strobe light scene) and some equally impressive technical sound and lighting effects.

All the familiar characters are present and magnified in director-choreographer Susan Stroman's outlandishly funny production (she also helmed "The Producers"). And Brooks has written music and lyrics for the original score. Original, that is, with the notable exception of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," here expanded from a duet to a huge ensemble number, the best of the show).

The cast is flawless, headed by Christopher Ryan in Gene Wilder's old role as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("that's Fronk-en-steen"), grandson of the monster maker, who travels to Transylvania and reluctantly exhumes his ancestor's life-restoring secrets (detailed in a dusty book titled "How I Did It"). Ryan's quick wit and even faster feet carry the show splendidly.

Brooks seem to have a penchant for tall, leggy, gorgeous blondes and Synthia Link could well have stepped into this show from "The Producers." She's basically the same character as Oola in her glorious stint as Inga, dripping with beauty, sex appeal and the dancing skills of a Rockette, which Link formerly was.

Few could fill the late Marty Feldman's shoes as Igor (pronounced "Eye-gor"), the doc's zany hunchbacked assistant with the adaptable hump, but Cory English has it covered in spades in a raucously goofy performance. And Frau Blucher, the mention of whose name makes horses whinny, gets a glorious interpretation from Joanna Blushak, who turns a punch line ("He Vas My Boyfriend") into a terrific musical number.

Janine Divita expands on Madeline Kahn's old role as Frederick's fussy fiancee, joining him at a most inopportune time (he's romancing Inga behind the curtain) and transforming into a tribute to Elsa Lanchester's "Bride of Frankenstein" character. David Benoit scores in two larger-than-life assignments, combining the roles played on film by Kenneth Mars (the constable) and Gene Hackman (the blind hermit).

And, yes, the monster cuts a wide swath of horrific comedy with Preston Truman Boyd stepping into the late Peter Boyle's big clodhoppers. Those shoes, in fact, become the centerpiece of a tap-dancing production number when he and Ryan put on the ritz.

"Young Frankenstein" is truly laugh-out-loud funny, using the hit movie as a starting point for some outrageous musical antics. One can only hope that Mel Brooks stays around long enough to bring us the stage version of "Blazing Saddles."

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.


WHAT: "Young Frankenstein"

WHERE: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Sept. 25

COST: Start at $15

CALL: (714) 556-2787

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