Nearly 7 feet tall with a green-tinged face, The Creature stomps forward to the front of the stage. He glares at the audience as his creator, Frederick Frankenstein, whips off The Creature’s medical gown and reveals that underneath is a dashing tuxedo. As Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” begins, The Creature’s horrible-looking face transforms into a goofy grin as he opens his mouth to sing and clomps his gigantic feet to tap dance through one of the most memorable comedic songs in history. Best of all, this time it’s live, directly in front of me on stage. young frankenstein
Mel Brooks originally wrote and directed the movie Young Frankenstein in 1974. Considered by many (including Brooks himself) to be his best film, Young Frankenstein was a parody of the Universal monster movies. In 2007, Mel Brooks created a musical version of Young Frankenstein. After its Broadway tour was complete, the musical became available to local theater companies. The Whittier Community Theatre has opened its 98th season with a fantastic version of the musical that’s well worth seeing.
For those who have never seen the movie, Young Frankenstein centers on the grandson of the infamous original Dr. Frankenstein. Frederick Frankenstein refuses to acknowledge anything about his family at the beginning of the play, even telling others that his name is pronounced Frahnkensteeen. When he gets word of inheriting his grandfather’s estate in Transylvania, however, he comes face to face with his destiny, including gaining the grandson of Igor (also named Igor) as his assistant. He follows in his grandfather’s footsteps by bringing the dead back to life.
While the plot of the movie actually plays very much along classic monster movie tropes, the real joy in Young Frankenstein comes from Brooks’ additions to the genre. Brooks transformed the story into the beloved film through a superb understanding of comedy (both slapstick and absurd) and through his wonderful collaboration with the actors he cast – such as Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman. Brooks transferred the same sense of comedic style and humor into the musical version of the story, generating a new version of the show that keeps what is funny about the original while adding comedy specifically designed for the stage.
While no cast may ever top the original movie’s performances, Whittier’s production of Young Frankenstein has an energetic, satisfying cast and electrifying musical numbers that will please fans of both comedy and horror. Jason Miramontes seems to channel the timing and mannerisms of the late Wilder in his performance as Frederick Frankenstein. Poised and manic in equal measure, Miramontes wonderfully tackles the transformation of Frederick from rigid academic to mad scientist. He is especially good when musically praying to the gods to give his creature life. Bryant Melton matches Miramontes’ energy equally as Igor the assistant. Combining some comedic beats and timing from Feldman’s performance in the original film with some quite brilliant improvisation, Melton’s Igor is hysterical from start to finish. Even in moments such as an accidental prop mistake on opening night, Melton’s comedic skills can still spawn one of the biggest laughs of the night.
Brittani Prenger’s performance of Inga, Frederick’s female ‘assistant’ who becomes his lover, has moments of comedic timing that are spot-on perfect. Her performance of the song “Roll in the Hay” beautifully melds the perfect innocence and sexual freedom the song needs into a dazzling musical number. Speaking of a perfect combination of comedy and singing, Amber Rivette’s rendition of the innuendo-filled number “Deep Love” nearly brought the house down through her impassioned, incredibly funny delivery.
The best performances of the night came from the older actors of the cast in character roles. Patty Rangel’s Frau Blucher is perfect from its inception and she absolutely nails the Marlene Dietrich-like style of her solo, “He Was My Boyfriend.” Jason Falske’s performance as the Hermit may be short, but his solo, “Give Me Someone,” defines both his timing and his presence as being one of the show’s highlights.
Finally, Guy C. van Empel’s performance as The Creature is perhaps the best piece of acting in the entire show. The character doesn’t even appear until almost the end of Act I and only speaks in grunts and gestures. In lesser hands, the part could be weak and drag the show down. Instead, van Empel brings such charm and humor to the role that it did something I’d never expected: He made me feel sympathy for the character in a brand new way, a surprising thing for a story that is so familiar.
Special notice also needs to be brought to this production’s ensemble. Thanks to choreographer Jocelyn Sanchez’ obviously fantastic leadership, the ensemble performs some amazing numbers – including a tap dance sequence with the entire group wearing platform shoes. Local theatrical productions often fall short when it comes to the dancing sequences of a musical, but I am very pleased to say that this version of Young Frankenstein passes with flying colors.
Amy Miramontes’ skill as director shines through most of the production. She’s cast actors that for the most part work very well in their roles and she’s molded the cast into a strong and enjoyable production. While a few jokes here and there fall short, some of that comes from the musical itself, as those same jokes both existed and fell short in the Broadway version. Most of the other moments that failed came from either opening night jitters or a set design that sometimes took too long to move or to transition. Both issues dragged the show on for far longer than it should have been – but both are also issues that one can expect to improve and get faster as the show continues.
Suzanne Frederickson’s set design is simplistic in nature but works very well thanks to a well-implemented use of projected backdrops that help to define the locations. Some of the pieces seem a little hard to move or shift, but that issue should run more smoothly with each show. The costumes by Melissa Tanaka and Nancy Tyler are superb, far better than many musicals I have seen with much larger budgets.
For those who love either the film or the musical, this production of Young Frankenstein is 100% worth coming to Whittier to experience. And for those who have never seen the show before, I would highly recommend checking this production out immediately. The Whittier Community Theatre has created a spectacular first production for its 98th season that is an electrifyingly good time. There is a whole lot to love in this Young Frankenstein and it deserves to perform for sold out audiences throughout its run.
Young Frankenstein runs through September 21st; purchase tickets here. Find out more about Whittier Community Theatre and their upcoming season on their website and Facebook page. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more events and shows throughout the year.
MORE ABOUT HAUNTING
If you like the above article and want to find more like it, make sure to join our community. If Facebook is your favorite, follow us there and become a part of our groups for Immersive Horror fans and/or Immersive creators. We’re active on Instagram, posting evocative imagery and informative stories to promote our reviews and recollections; follow us there. You can even find us on twitter; click here to follow. For those who want to explore deeper, we have a vibrant Slack community with new event alerts and immediate ticket sale announcements; click here to join. And subscribe to our event calendar to get emails for all or specific events (look for the link right under the calendar)! Finally, we have a newsletter that comes out once a week; click here to sign up.
So however you like your news being delivered, we have something haunting for you.