Arts & Culture

'Young Frankenstein' coming to Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center

The mad scientist and his creation in 'Young Frankenstein.'
The mad scientist and his creation in 'Young Frankenstein.' Paul Kolnik

When the musical version of “Young Frankenstein” comes to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, audiences will see the show that Broadway audiences saw in 2007 when Mel Brooks translated his hit 1974 film to the stage, adding song and dance.

“The show is the same,” said Jeff Whiting, director of the national touring production, in an interview from New York. “The only changes are for traveling. We downsized to take some of the bulk out, but it still looks the same from the front.”

There have been several touring productions over the years, and each actor brings his or her own take to a role, he added. Whiting was assistant to Susan Stroman, director of the original Broadway show, and he has been with “Young Frankenstein” ever since, as well as being involved with many other productions and projects.

“I was a big fan of the movie,” he said. “I saw it as a kid, so I was excited to be a part of it.”

The show has almost all of the elements of the movie, but they are expanded with 23 song-and-dance numbers. And there are some added jokes, the director said.

“It’s such a beloved film that audiences see a scene coming, and begin to titter before it comes, but Mel Brooks takes it a step further and gives them some surprises to get their funny bone going.”

The movie is a parody of the horror films of the 1930s and ’40s, especially the 1931 Universal Pictures “Frankenstein” and its 1939 sequel, “Son of Frankenstein.” Filmed in black and white, it features a laboratory full of special effects, which have been reinvented in the live version.

“Our set designer, Robin Wagner, has designed a long staircase, and live electricity and bolts of lightning onstage pay homage to the style of film of that era,” Whiting explained.

The horses that spooked and whinnied in the movie when Frau Blucher’s name was mentioned are also onstage. Two actors wear costumes that are half costume and half puppet.

Rory Donovan, who plays the monster, is 6-foot-2, and he wears 4-inch platform shoes and a tall headpiece to add height.

“He’s really good as the monster is relearning how to walk and talk.”

Christopher Timson plays Igor, the memorable Marty Feldman role, but he gives it his own spin, the director said.

“No one does an imitation of anybody.”

The music is also designed as a tribute to the era of the ’30s and ‘40s, he said, and the entire score has that flavor. Among the show’s favorite numbers is Frau Blucher’s song, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” taken from a line in the movie. “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a song by Cole Porter, was performed by the monster in the movie, but in the musical it’s a production number by the whole company, with a big line of tap dancers.

Alyson McLamore, a professor in Cal Poly’s music department, will give a free preshow lecture at 6 p.m. before the performance. She said she will talk about the music and the influence of the films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the stars of the time and the songs in the style of the era of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, among others.

The show will be funny and fun even if you don’t recognize the tribute to the music of the past, she said.

“You may laugh your head off, but if you get it, it adds an extra layer of humor — more whipped cream on your sundae.”

She compared the experience of recognizing the musical style to the nostalgia of seeing a film or aplay where someone picks up a glass, and you remember, “My grandmother had a glass like that.”

“The dancing in the show is also in the style of the era,” she said, such as the chorus line in “Puttin’on the Ritz,” and some dance numbers replicate the style of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The musical is rated PG, for the signature “sophomoric humor” of Mel Brooks, she noted.

“There are double entendres, nothing explicit, but jokes about body parts. If you don’t like Mel Brooks, you won’t like it.”

The best thing about turning a favorite movie into live action is the interaction, McLamore said, the anticipation of certain lines and moments, “the chemistry between the actors and the audience.”

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