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Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Young Frankenstein
Los Altos Stage Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Bryan Moriarty and Joey Dippel
Photo by Christian Pizzirani
When it comes to parody and farce, who does it better than Mel Brooks? Whether garnering tear-producing laughs by satirizing Star Wars movies (Spaceballs), Alfred Hitchcock thrillers (Anxiety), westerns (Blazing Saddles), Broadway (Producers), and so much more, Brooks is the king of pointed but good-hearted jabs full of jocularity and always with a bit of naughty.

In 2007, Brooks (with help on book by Thomas Meehan) premiered his musical stage version of the 1974 film Young Frankenstein, which he and comedy co-genius Gene Wilder wrote spoofing the classic, Frankenstein films of the 1930s. Los Altos Stage Company is currently resurrecting a 2.5 hour, monster-manic, fun-packed, slapstick-stacked Young Frankenstein, featuring a fantastically funny and musically talented cast. Directed and choreographed with tongue fully in cheek and with eyes prone to devilishness by Morgan Dayley. LASC's Young Frankenstein is a simmering, summer sensation.

Just as the villagers of Transylvania in 1934 are celebrating the funeral of the notorious grave-robbing, monster-creating Dr. Victor Frankenstein, his grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced by him as "Fronkensteen" to distance himself from his ancestry) is giving a rather zany lecture on the brain to his medical students, who are more curious about the rumors they have heard about the real pronunciation of his name. Joey Dippel introduces us to the excitable, dynamic, and quickly likable personality of Frederick, singing with ease in attractive vocals the rapid-fire, pun-filled lyrics Mel Brooks has provided him in "The Brain."

When Frederick hears he has inherited the Frankenstein Castle, he reluctantly heads across the ocean to settle financial matters, leaving behind his finicky fiancée, Elizabeth, whose cartoonish-sung goodbye (with some X-rated hints) provides us an initial look at the first-rate comic and vocal talents of Gwyneth Price Panos–a glimpse of the totally over-the-top hilarity she will provide later in a surprise visit to the castle.

Upon arriving in Transylvania, Frederick is greeted by a hunchbacked Igor (pronounced "Eye-gor"), whose hump just cannot stay in one place. Dave Leon is delightful, charming, and a downright hoot as Igor, soon to become Frederick's loyal, inseparable sidekick. Igor insists that he and Frederick must become partners in the "family business," with the two singing and dancing in Martin/Lewis style with vaudeville flair and big-stage voices, "Together Again"–the first of several guffaw-producing scenes that, as both director and choreographer, Morgan Dayley proves she is the perfect choice to bring Brooks' vision of lampoon to life.

Even as Frederick still protests that his visit is to be short and in no way to involve the rebirth of dead bodies, Igor informs him that he now has a blonde-hair-flipping, leggy lab assistant, Inga, who hops not only onto the awaiting hay wagon, but also onto the stunned but soon aroused Frederick. What follows is a bumping, humping hayride where reeling and rolling in the hay leads to a climactic frenzy of shakes and a final yodeling of happiness by the erotically energized Inga (Gwenaveire Garlick, who is a riot, channeling the comic manners of Marilyn Monroe).

At the castle, Frederick soon meets two once-lovers, who entice him to take up the family trade of monster-making. In a midnight dream, a wall portrait comes to life as Grandpa Victor (Keith Brown) and sings with voluminous gusto, "Join the Family Business." He is soon joined by a bevy of his and Frederick's past as lab-goggle-wearing, lab-coated ancestors sing in harmony and dance both the Russian squat-and-leg-thrusting and the Jewish bottle-on-the-head dances from Fiddler on the Roof–a trademark of Brooks as he often both honors and ribs past musicals.

The other half of the once love-match is Victor's (and now Frederick's) big-eyed housekeeper, Frau Blücher, who also hopes he will continue the legacy business of her deceased employer/lover. Reminiscing alone of those bygone days of love, Caitlin Gjerdrum near brings down the house singing "He Vas My Boyfriend" in a mixture of voice types from deep, guttural tones to sweetly intoned notes to full-on Broadway diva-style. Taking full advantage of Brooks' sexual innuendos peppering the lyrics by enhancing them with her own, laugh-out-loud antics full of suggestion, her Frau is yet one more standout among a cast who each find scores of subtle and not-at-all-subtle ways to accentuate the humor of their characters.

Mild-mannered Frederick has his unavoidable, Jekyll-Hyde moment of transformation to become a near-mad scientist drawn to recreate masterpiece monsters like his ancestors. Soon re-birthed is a gigantic, green, ghastly (but still rather cute in his own way) creature known as "The Monster." Bryan Moriarty more than fits the bill in embodying Frederick's lab mistake (he was supposed to have the mind of a genius, but–oops–Igor goofed in his grave-robbing). With much of his features caked in make-up and rubber, his Monster's eyes are terrifically expressive and say volumes for a creature who can initially only grunt.

Many individual moments and full scenes of monstrous mirth are to come, but none is any funnier nor a bigger showstopper than his and Frederick's duo of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." In tuxes, top hats, and canes, the two sing and dance in a caricature of the 1930s big-screen musicals, although The Monster does not actually sing but instead screeches–with lots of heart and happiness. When joined by a stage full of formally attired tap-dancers, Morgan Dayley can chalk up one more award-worthy directed number.

Leading the townspeople into fits of fury over the presence of another Frankenstein in the neighborhood is a gruff and grumpy Inspector Kemp, whose left peg leg and right arm provide ample opportunities for Keith Larson to draw a load of laughs from an appreciative audience. Ian Catindig wonderfully plays two lovable outcasts: Izzy, the town idiot; and a lonely, blind hermit who sings with lovely, pleading tones, "Please Send Me Someone." That someone is tall, green and hungry, and the scene of the blind host feeding his grateful guest is a short schtick worthy of any two famous clowns like Laurel and Hardy.

Bryan Hornbeck's scenic design of rotating archways with pull-down elements and a backdrop of a spooky castle are a great combination with a few, easily entered-and-exited elements to quickly create a sitting room or a laboratory. Carol Fischer's lighting design plays well against those scenic elements and creates both big-movie spotlights for dance numbers and shadowed creepiness for a basement laboratory. Lightning time and again streaks on walls and floor, followed by huge claps of thunder, the latter just a smidgen of what sound designers Chris Beer and Brian Foley bring to bear. And from the red, head-to-toe glamor of Elizabeth to the Transylvania fashions of Igor and the Frau to the monster-beast bedding of you-know-who, Lance Müller deserves a moment in the spotlight for his impressive costume design creativity.

Of course, happy endings for all are guaranteed Los Altos Stage Company's winning production of Young Frankenstein. As the full cast triumphantly sings in the "Finale," "Welcome to Transylvania, where blessings fall from above; and even monsters fall in love."

Young Frankenstein runs through June 23, 2024, at Los Altos Stage Company, in the Bus Barn Theatre, 97 Hillview, Los Altos CA. For tickets and information, please visit, call 650-941-0551, or visit the box office Thursday and Friday, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. and one-half hour before performance.