Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Featuring: Steven Ennis as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Lindsay Stark as Elizabeth Benning, Jessica Whittemore as Inga, George Mauro as The Hermit and Inspector Hans Kemp, Michael D. Reed as The Monster, Joey McDaniel as Igor, Linda Piccone as Frau Blücher, Shawn Bender as Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein; and Tony Gonzales, Mohamed Ismail, Andrew Kracht, Joey Montes, Alex Rubin and Michael Saenz, male ensemble; and Christina Bolognini, Jennifer Butler, Stacey Hamilton, Jessica Maxey, Michelle McComb, Noelani Neal, and Elana Ron, female ensemble.
Directed by: Patrick Klein
When: April 25 through May 11, 2014
Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets:$26–$48. Call 650-329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org
The Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical "Young Frankenstein" is kind of a Frankenstein's monster itself.
It's a stitched-together melange of old comedy bits, new comedy bits, uneven music and old horror-movie silliness. It's not as good a musical as is Brooks-Meehan's "The Producers," and it's not as funny as its source material, the 1974 Brooks movie.
It kind of stumbles around on stage like the re-animated creature, with some parts working and some parts still in need of being shocked into life.
Still, in the Palo Alto Players production on stage at Lucie Stern Theatre, the bits that do work are really fun, and there are some great laughs.
A weakness in this production is comedy timing. Musical performers tend to be worrying about getting to the next cue, and very few of them have the innate understanding of how timing has to be milked. Truly great comedic performers never rush a joke; they let it gestate, they let the pregnant pause grow till almost bursting, then they deliver the line.
While Palo Alto Players has assembled an excellent cast for this show, some of them don't really get that whole comic timing thing. And since about 99 percent of the people in the audience have probably seen the movie and know when the funny lines are coming, it is painful when a line is not given the respect, and the timing, it deserves.
But, this is a Mel Brooks story, so don't worry about it. Regret one flubbed line, just wait 2.5 seconds, another joke is on its way.
Steven Ennis is mostly delightful and funny as Young Frankenstein not for his delivery of the classic lines so much as for what he does with his face. A basically handsome guy, his face is all rubber and he does a lot of great stuff with it, from Fron-kin-steen's arrogance to his lust denied with girlfriend Elizabeth and lust encouraged with Inga.
Ennis was absolutely hilarious as Prince Herbert and in three other roles in "Spamalot" at Hillbarn Theatre in September 2013, and it is fun to see him take this lead role.
The great Linda Piccone, a stalwart of Bay Area theatre, does understand comic timing, and she was knock-out hilarious as Frau Blücher, the housekeeper. Old Frankenstein was her boyfriend, and she has a lot to say about how great he was, including that at the picnic, he won the three-legged race by himself. More funny stuff in this role than was in the movie.
Joey McDaniel is very funny as Igor, whose very entrance was so hilarious that it got a huge laugh on opening night. He gets to do a lot of outrageous stuff, and makes it all work.
Jessica Whittemore as Inga, Lindsay Stark as Elizabeth and Michael D. Reed as the monster are all delightful, and all provide surprises. The bosoms of both women should probably get their own curtain calls, so much is made of them. Don't like cleavage? Don't go to this show. (And, you know, seek counseling.) Whittemore is an excellent singer, full of vigor and fun, and she yodels. Good use is made of the yodeling. Hilarious. Stark is another fine singer, and while her character is tiresome in her first act appearance, she takes the role and runs with it in the second act. Reed is fabulous as the green-faced monster, with his grunts and roars, early on, then knocks everybody out with a fabulous operatic voice late in the second act.
George Mauro does a fine job as Kemp, the cop, and is hilarious as the blind hermit. He sings a lonely man's song, "Please Send Me Someone," which the show milks for a laughs.
The female and male ensembles are both excellent. Good singers, good dancers. And Jennifer Gorgulho's choreography was, at times, brilliantly funny. A lot of great stuff going on in the dances.
Sound, designed by Grant Huberty, was a problem for me, sitting in the front row, just feet from the fine orchestra directed by Matthew Mattei. The actors wore face mics, but my guess is the sound was directed toward mid-house and back-of-house. For me, the great "Sweet Mystery of Life" line, delivered by Stark as Elizabeth, was lost in the music. But again ... wait two seconds .. and along came a very funny song, "Deep Love," delivered by Stark, that is all randy and very little emotional.
Kuo-Hao Lo made a beautiful set for "Miss Saigon" at Palo Alto Players, but this set was less impressive. Tight budget, maybe. Too much blank-screen background during parts of the show, and too many castle backdrops that looked more like cardboard than stone.
The songs, of course, were mostly not in the original movie; and there are new and very funny jokes that also were not in the movie, so there are some surprises, in that sense. But the best song in the show, really, was not written by Brooks: It is "Puttin' on the Ritz," written by Irving Berlin in 1928.
But what they do with it in this show is a lot of fun, and much more involved than the movie.
This is a hugely complicated show, so hats off to director Patrick Klein for even attempting it, especially while in the process of taking over as artistic director of Palo Alto Players. Maybe if he'd had a little more time with it, he would have gotten everybody to understand the timing issue.
By the way, the accents kind of come and go with most of the cast, but so what? It's an over-the-top comedy. Dig it.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org