By Pam Harbaugh
Cocoa Village Playhouse comes alive! alive! with its thoroughly enjoyable, laugh-a-minute production of Mel Brooks’ musical “Young Frankenstein.”
In case you’ve had your nose in books too much, here’s the idea behind the story: Young Dr. Frankenstein is a respected neurosurgeon in New York City. He is beckoned to Transylvania to settle his late grandfather’s estate. While there, a mysterious housekeeper urges him to join the family business and create a monster. His sexy blond assistant remains at his side while his self-loving fiancee comes to visit. The Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan musical, like the movie, is a high-camp parody of the 1931 “Frankenstein” movie with Boris Karloff.
CVP’s side-splitting production should satisfy even the most die-hard of Franken-philes. Not only do you have an affectionate homage to Mel Brooks’ wonderful 1974 movie starring Gene Wilder, you also have over-the-top production numbers, plenty of high-kicking pyrotechnics and a cast of performers who probably have never heard the word “inhibition.”
Its success begins with the well-oiled machine Cocoa Village Playhouse has become.
Scenic/lighting designer Ian Cook sets the stage with a hybrid of the 1931 movie and the 2007 Broadway musical: The movie’s creepy black and white castle; and the Broadway production’s “ride in zee hay” projection of an animated video. Mr. Cook is at his most effective with his use of black and white rear projections which loom creepily larger as the Monster is jolted to life.
Costume designer Dan Hill paints the black and white setting with vivid costumes — his best ever. And stage manager Brian Brown oversees a crew which moves scenic units on an off without a hesitant moment.
Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith scores big in her casting of this show and her overarching concept of emulating the movie. Indeed, her wise direction seems to consist of: Stand there and be funny.
Which the actors do, over and over again. With double-taked nuance and outright slapstick, they wring out every drop of Mel Brooks’ humor this show has.
The first delicious moment comes when James Spiva (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein) whips around to face the audience. His frizzy hair, makeup and demeanor evoke Mr. Wilder’s mad-scientist. He corrects, “That’s Franken-SCHTEEN,” delighting the audience which roars with laughter and applause. (If you don’t get the gag, then you haven’t seen the movie.) Mr. Spiva, who has a splendid singing voice, brings exquisite touches to his performance. His is the sweet spot of restrained nuance — the understatement accelerating the absurdity.
Nearly unrecognizable in thick makeup, cape and nutty walk, Bob Barone has a great turn as Igor, the hump-backed servant who mistakes a brain marked “abnormal” for a brain belonging to someone named Abby Normal.
Elizabeth Zombo is a delectable hoot at Inga, the sexy servant who teaches Dr. Frankenstein the ways of love in “Roll in the Hay.” Jennifer Laurel Farmer is a fetching delight as sophisticated Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee. She is hysterically naughty in her “Please, Don’t Touch Me” and “Deep Love” numbers. Yes, this is a grown up show, thank you very much.
Brenda Krieger is pin point perfect as Frau Blucher, the mysterious, stolid housekeeper for whom the mere mention of her name sends horses neighing in terror. She nearly steals the show in her number, “He Vas My Boyfriend.” This is Ms. Krieger’s second musical, ever, which begs the questions: Where HAS she been keeping herself?
Daniel Deruelle scores big time as The Monster. Stuffed into an over-sized suit and huge platform shoes, he handles the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” dance routine with ease. He stops the show when, as The Monster, he roars out a garbled “Putting on the Ritz.” He gets to the very funny core of “Deep Love” with the Elizabeth character and then waxes perfect Noel Coward after his brain is modified.
Oh, come on now. You’re not really concerned about spoilers here, are you?
Adam Karolick brings perfect to the goofy gestures and stage movement of wooden armed, wooden legged Inspector Hans Kemp. Brian Smith has a good time with The Hermit, a blind man who spills boiling soup into the lap of the Monster and sets his thumb on fire.
Conductor J. Thomas Black, Jr.’s orchestra is spot on in the many funny numbers, especially “Join the Family Business,” a rip-roaring, over-the-top production number choreographed with abandon by Pamela Larson. Add to that Igor and Dr. Frankenstein’s vaudeville-inspired “Together Again for the First Time.”
Just because there’s plenty of jokes and opportunity for fun over-acting, this is not a fail-safe musical. It still needs solid production values and big, bold talent to make a success.
Cocoa Village Playhouse has those ingredients and turns them all loose in this entertaining production of “Young Frankenstein.” This is one of those “don’t miss” shows for which the Playhouse has become increasingly popular. In fact, it’s one of its best ones yet. Don’t be surprised if you end up fighting for tickets with people from Orlando. It’s just that good.
SIDE O’ GRITS: Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” through Oct. 13 at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. $16 to $24 plus handling. Call 321-636-5050 or visit www.cocoavillageplayhouse.com. To see a post-opening video, click here.