Palm Canyon Theatre Stages Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein”


Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

If Neil Simon is the playwright with the greatest number of smash comedy plays on Broadway (over 30) Mel Brooks is surely the nuttiest, wackiest, and supremely muli-talented playwright/actor – with huge successes on Broadway from “The Producers” (1968) to “Young Frankenstein” (1974).

And while we’re at it let’s throw in the movies “Blazing Saddles”, (1974) “High Anxiety”, his spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller “Pyscho” (1977), and dozens of movies and TV shows. Brooks and Simon were prodigious writers in their heyday. The likes we’ll probably not see again. Besides, we’re in a different time period, in a different culture, with different priorities.

Ben Reece, Denise Carey `photos by Paul Hayashi
Ben Reece, Denise Carey `photos by Paul Hayashi

Kudos to the Palm Canyon Theatre for reviving one of Brook’ classic tales turned into a bawdy farce/musical, where director Steve Fisher faithfully recreates all of Brooks’ sly and witty innuendos and asides concerning, then current, TV show references, celebrities of the day and some of their foibles, which in short, makes the libretto a hoot. Brooks, Fisher, and the cast don’t miss anything in this hilarious over-the-top production.

The story, such as it is, based on the Mary Shelley horror novel “Frankenstein”, is so dense and well known it defies reducing it to a couple of sentences. However, to give the uninitiated a sense of what takes place on the stage, don’t over analyze it. It’s Transylvania, as Mel Brooks envisions it. Need I say more? Just accept and enjoy the silliness and fun of it all.

“Young Frankenstein” boasts a talented cast of twenty-one performers, actors, singers, and dancers who understand the regimen involved when playing in a farce. Commitment along with 100% dedication and belief in the characters they’re playing is what makes the entire production work, no matter how silly the on stage action is. When they believe it, we believe it.

Making sure we do, indeed, believe it, Fisher has assembled a solid cast of principal stars which include: Ben Reece as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Tom Warrick as the wily and madcap Igor, Katie Pavao as Inga, the nurse assistant to Dr. Frankenstein who sports, not only a lovely voice, but a most convincing German accent, and a real flair for comedy/farce, Denise Carey as the beautiful, long-legged and glamorous Elizabeth Benning, J.Stegar Thompson as “the Monster, has the voice of an angel, forget the monster label; and comic timing to boot, Bobbi Eakes as Frau Blucher scores as the quirky, loyal Housekeeper to Dr. Frankenstein, Terry Huber as the blind hermit, Stephen Blackwell as Inspector Kemp, and David Steen as Ziggy, deliver the zany, comedic goods necessary for musical comedy farce.

left to right: Katie Pavao, Tom Warrick. Bobbie Eakes, Ben Reece, J. Stegar Thompson ~ photo by Paul Hayashi
left to right: Katie Pavao, Tom Warrick. Bobbie Eakes, Ben Reece, J. Stegar Thompson ~ photo by Paul Hayashi

Funny as the production is, every musical needs its ensemble performers and the technical support people necessary to pull off the on stage shenanigans. The Palm Canyon Theatre’s resident Set Design wizard J.W. Layne has his multi-set locations large enough to accommodate singers and dancers and their routines, including tap; choreographed by resident Choreographer Heidi Hapner. In addition, Layne has a few special effects to dazzle the audience. However, I overheard a couple of patrons mention during the intermission, there was too much atmospheric smoke for the first three rows. The effect, however, produced minor throat discomfort. Jennifer Stowe’s costumes are functional and visually striking, especially those worn by Denise Carey and Katy Pavao. The “movable humps” in Igor’s costume always get a laugh.

“Young Frankenstein” runs at the Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs through November 2nd. For reservations and ticket information call the box office at 760-323-5123.

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