Mel Brooks is the first name you’re going to associate with the musical version of “Young Frankenstein,” of course. It’s his wacky world from the 1974 classic film created up there on stage — the memorable characters, silly sight gags, dancing monsters and, as expected, quotable one-liners. (You know you’re in good hands when the title of one song is “He Vas My Boyfriend,” sung by the severe — and severely randy — Frau Blucher, the very mention of whose name makes off-stage horses whinny.)
But besides Brooks, there’s another name that makes the new Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater so successful: Fred Bologna.
As director, Bologna is in top form in this silly, bawdy, wonderfully staged show. Once again, I find myself liking the local premiere of a (relatively) new Broadway show at Roger Rocka’s more than the national tour that came through the Saroyan. (The same thing happened recently with GCP’s “Shrek.) Bologna’s innovative use of the small Roger Rocka’s stage, clever effects, choreography and wonderfully dressed sets (he, along with Sam Ortega, doubles as prop master, and what an array of beakers, skulls, skeletons, scientific diagrams and frightening lab equipment the two of them have assembled) all contribute to a slick, happy production.
Most important, Bologna just seems to have a psychic comic connection with Brooks. He demonstrated it in his smart productions of “The Producers” for GCP, and it’s on display now with “Young Frankenstein.” While this newer title wasn’t as big a hit as “Producers” on Broadway, nor is it as good a musical, there’s an undeniable feisty, feel-good comic sensibility with which Bologna just seems to mesh.
He meshes with his designers as well. The whole “Young Frankenstein” package is among the most advanced GCP shows I’ve seen, from Andrea Henrickson’s mad-scientist lighting design and Emily Pessano’s makeup (heavy on the green, of course) to Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes and David Pierce’s impressive ability to create a large number of settings on such a tiny stage.
The acting is strong. Daniel Hernandez, as the overbearing young Doctor Frederick Frankenstein — pronounced, he insists, as Franken-steen — offers yet another memorable comic GCP performance in his impressive career. With his trim mustache and unruly hair, he disappears physically into the role in an uncanny way, swinging between pompous twit and gung-ho leading man with finesse.
Frankenstein is a big-shot doctor in New York, but he opts to return to the family home in Transylvania after news of his grandfather’s death. After saying goodbye to his uptight rich fiancee, Elizabeth Benning (Paige Parker), whose very funny song “Please Don’t Touch Me” might set a record for bawdy lyrics at Roger Rocka’s, the young Frankenstein is greeted by the irrepressible Igor (Tyler Branco, coming off the title role in “Shrek” with another blisteringly good vocal and comic performance), who takes him to the family castle.
Sarah Lane has some perky comic moments as Inga, hired as Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant, who treats us to the funny “Roll in the Hay” — another deft Bologna stage moment. After being encouraged to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, Frankenstein decides to dabble in monster creation. The resulting creature, played by the towering Daniel Sutherland — who towers even higher thanks to some impressive platform heels — sets up the biggest comic payoff of the show, the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number. Sutherland grunts his way through the role with a green-faced proficiency, and he really blossoms in his comic moments later in the show.
This “Young Frankenstein” might be a great production, but is it a great musical? Nah. The second act, in particular, starts to flop around in terms of narrative. (I’ve seen the show before and am familiar with the movie, and even I couldn’t track the storyline in this version when it comes to the Monster ending up in his big “Ritz” number. Was a scene cut?) But it’s a tremendous amount of fun.
Which brings me to my favorite performance of the show: Jennifer Goettsch as Frau Blucher, the stout battleship of a housekeeper. So often at the community theater level, actors reach 90% of a role’s potential, say, but that last 10% is hard to attain in terms of complete confidence and ownership of a character. Goettsch’s take on the Frau is 100%. Sometimes an actor clicks so perfectly in a role that you can imagine her stepping into that character anywhere — at Roger Rocka’s, the Saroyan, even Broadway. Dour, lusty, fierce, conniving — this Blucher really does seem as if she could spook our equine friends. I give this show two strong whinnies.