The young actors in CPCC Summer Theatre’s “Young Frankenstein” have one of the toughest theatrical jobs of this year: They have to make us forget we heard these same lines in the Oscar-nominated screenplay of 1974, countless parodies over four decades and the national tour that came to Charlotte in 2011.
They’re encouraged by the Halton Theater audience, which laughs happily at all the familiar bits: “What hump? “It’s Fron-ken-steen.” “He vas...my BOYFRIEND!”
And in the end, this cast infuses Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s second-tier musical with such energy that, like the monster, it’s roused surprisingly to life.
The show debuted in New York in 2007, seven months after the same team’s “The Producers” finished its fabulous run. It managed 485 performances on the strength of a huge advance sale but never caught fire. When I interviewed Brooks four years ago, he promised more musical adaptations of his comedies – probably “High Anxiety” first, then “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” – but none have materialized, and none will.
Where “The Producers” expanded cleverly on his Oscar-winning screenplay, “Young Frankenstein” merely replicates the film script. Brooks’ songs all sound like parodies or pale mimicry of better composers’ material; the best number remains Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” wittily choreographed here by Ron Chisholm.
The cast, however, delivers every note with conviction. Matthew Blake Johnson gives us a Frederick Frankenstein (grandson of the late monster-maker) whose verve takes him to the brink of hysteria. Ashton Guthrie’s irrepressible Igor goes in a different direction than Marty Feldman’s Cockney assistant, and that’s a smart move.
Ashtyn Hutchings makes lab assistant Inga both innocent and lusty, and Kelly Kohlman’s Frau Blucher has a sweetness you wouldn’t expect. (She’s much too young for the part, of course.) Jacob Estes’ amiable monster and Kylee Verhoff’s brash Elizabeth keep us smiling. Even Rob Addison throws his heart into an extended scene as the blind hermit.
Yet that scene shows why “Young Frankenstein” seldom works onstage. Brooks and Meehan repeat the gags with the boiling soup, the broken glass, the burning thumb. But before and afterward, the hermit belts the intentionally maudlin “Please Send Me Someone,” even dragging himself along on one knee like Al Jolson. Director Tom Hollis encourages hambonery here and elsewhere, because Brooks so clearly demands it. But where the movie kills us, the musical overkills.
The show benefits from Jennifer O’Kelly’s spooky and mobile sets, Drina Keen’s orchestra (crisper than usual) and Steve Gamble’s sound design, the best I’ve heard for an amplified Halton show in three years. In this case, hearing the score remains a mixed blessing.
CPCC Summer Theatre does the Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical about the mad doctor, his creature and the women in their lives.
WHEN: Through July 25 at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Halton Theater, 1206 Elizabeth Ave.
RUNNING TIME: 145 minutes.
TICKETS: $18-$22 ($10 ages 15 and under).