Things are about to get a little Wilder at Coast Union High School. No, Gene Wilder won’t be in town, but Coast Union students will be channeling the monster of a hit film he helped spawn in their production of “Young Frankenstein.”
It’s been 40 years since the film version of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” debuted in December 1974. The movie featured Wilder in the title role, supported by such comic luminaries as Madelyn Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr and, as the monster, Peter Boyle.
“Because it’s the (40th) anniversary of ‘Young Frankenstein,’ it’s nice to put on something that’s got a lot of publicity,” said production manager Todd Steeb.
Steeb is serving as production manager on his sixth Coast Union production. “The kids are phenomenal. It’s a great cast.”
That cast is led by Tristan Evans, who sports a Wilder-worthy head of hair as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and showed an ability during rehearsal to capture some of the comic legend’s flawless timing.
Jacob Wright has more than a hunch about how to play Igor (that’s EYE-gore to you), while Anna Harrington is in fine voice as Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth, and Kat Cleave fills Garr’s shoes as the doctor’s personal assistant, Inga, nicely. Nate Ehlers, meanwhile, does double duty as the monster and the ghost of the original Dr. Frankenstein.
The film on which the Coast Union play is based is ranked at No. 13 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Funniest American Movies of All Time” list released in 2010.
A parody of the classic-era horror genre, “Young Frankenstein” follows an American medical school lecturer who inherits his great-grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. The great-grandfather in question is the infamous Baron von Frankenstein, and the young American — at first chagrined by his ancestor’s reputation — eventually becomes intrigued by the doctor’s work and decides to continue it, with comic results.
The film’s enduring popularity helped make it a natural choice when the process of selecting a play for Coast Union students began in October. Organizers started with a list of 250 or 300 shows, whittled the finalists down to 10, then chose “Young Frankenstein” from among that number, Steeb said.
“When we first announced the play, the cast really bought into it,” Schwalbe said. “They really embraced it right from the start and brought a lot of energy to it. … Based on the music and the lines, it was very appealing to the students. During the rehearsals, it was very hard to keep a straight face.”
Once “Young Frankensein” was selected, the work began in earnest.
Previous spring productions at Coast Union have included “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Wizard of Oz,” but Schwalbe described “Young Frankenstein” as the most intricate production the school has put on, thanks in large measure to the special effects. Among them are 33 thunder and lightning cues, along with special lighting and devices for the laboratory and castles, the director said.
“We have professional sound, professional lighting; all the kids are miked, so they come through clearly,” Steeb said. “There’s a lot of surprises in this show, with video and things like that. We have some special effects that we’re looking forward to sharing with the audience.”
Among the highlights is an elaborate-looking contraption, complete with multiple wires and flashing lights, that’s lowered from the ceiling and used by the good doctor to bring his creation to life.
With so many resources at his disposal, Schwalbe said he’s not planning to take any shortcuts when it comes to staging the play.
“From a director’s point of view, we’re trying to treat this as a movie,” he said. “I’m trying to show the audience everything I can.”
Schwalbe will be directing his second play at Coast Union, following up on last year’s “Guys and Dolls,” and it will also be his fifth time directing a live orchestra made up of community members volunteering their time. The use of an orchestra is one of the things that make Coast Union musicals special, he said.
“We make it a tradition that we hold to very dearly that we do these shows with live music,” he said.
Another tradition that’s being upheld again this year is a high level of community involvement.
“We get to use the gym, which gives us a very large venue, and we have a very large production staff of between 60 and 80 people, mostly parents,” Schwalbe said.
The school relies on volunteer labor to create sets, set up lighting and get the show ready. Donations help pay for the rest. For instance, funds raised this year allowed for the purchase of six light stands, with volunteers doing the welding work to set them up, Steeb said. The purchase will save money spent on renting stands for a play each semester.
“We have so much support through donations and people’s time,” Steeb said. “Because it’s volunteer only, there are days when I’m there until 9 o’clock at night. As we get closer to the production, I’ll be there until 1 o’clock in the morning. Everybody just donates their time, and it’s thousands of hours between all of us.”
Coast Union instructor Larry Frost is producing the play. Tiffany Stephens is the choreographer, Kae Bitto is the state manager, and Nancy Taylor is the house manager.
Schwalbe, who serves as president of Cambria Center for the Arts, has also directed shows such as “Little Shop of Horrors” and “In Living Color” at the Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre. This summer, he’ll be at the helm of the theatre’s summer production of “Evita.”
The “Young Frankenstein” cast features 20 students, with seven more on the tech crew, Schwalbe said.
A $10 ticket will buy you general admission and bench seating, while $20 will give you one of 110 backed seats on the floor “right up front,” Steeb said. Tickets are available at the school as well as at the Cambria Chamber of Commerce on Main Street and at the door.
Who’s Who in "Young Frankenstein"
- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Tristan Evans
- Inga: Kat Cleave
- Igor: Jacob Wright
- Elizabeth Benning: Anna Harrington
- Dr. Victor Frankenstein/The Monster: Nate Ehlers
- Frau Blücher: Callie Cashdan
- Inspector Hans Kemp: Meg Stern
- Shoeshine Boy/Mordecai: Andrew Paiz
- Mr. Hilltop: Joe Crowley
- Telegraph Boy: Cameron MacTavish
- Steward: Treiy Petit
- Horses: Hayley Zinn, Brandon Loredo
- The Hermit: Cameron MacTavish
- Ziggy: Michelle Campos
- Ziggettes: Hayley Zinn, Lindy Ortiz, Olivia Hargear
- Students: Maryn Steeb, Anika Marthaler, Treiy Petit, Tori Ehlers, Karina Ochoa, Sophie MacKinnon
- Villagers: Treiy Petit, Karina Ochoa, Maryn Steeb, Annika Marthaler, Cameron MacTavish, Lindy Ortiz
- Mad Scientists: Brandon Loredo, Zoe Markham, Annika Marthaler, Karina Ochoa
Transylvania Meadows Double Quartet
- Lead: Anna Harrington, Annika Marthaler
- Tenor: Lindy Ortiz, Olivia Hargear
- Baritone: Tori Ehlers, Zoe Markham
- Bass: Cameron MacTavish, Hayley Zinn
- What: Coast Union High School spring musical, directed by Randy Schwalbe.
- When: 7 p.m. March 20, 21, 27, 28, (doors open at 6:30); 3 p.m. March 22, 29 (doors open at 2:30).
- Where: Coast Union High School gymnasium, 2950 Santa Rosa Creek Road, Cambria.
- Tickets: $10 general admission, $20 reserved; available at the high school or the Cambria Chamber of Commerce office, 767 Main St., Cambria, 927-3624.