There's more than a whiff of the moldy around "Young Frankenstein," the touring Mel Brooks musical comedy that opened Tuesday.
It's in the vaudevillian jokes, the "walk this way" bit, the blind man's pratfalls, the soft-shoe shtick. Audience members would be forgiven for thinking they had missed the turn for Transylvania and ended up in the Borscht Belt, that string of rural New York vacation resorts where 1950s city folk enjoyed nightly comedy acts (including Brooks).
Because somehow in "Young Frankenstein," what could be just tired and crass is reborn as funny and charming.
The secret to that success lies mainly in the cast, which is so wrapped up in the stream of sexual innuendo and double-entendres that there's no time to ponder how silly it all is.
As Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Frahnk-n-steen, as viewers of the 1974 movie know), Christopher Ryan has a bounce in his step and a manic gleam in his eye that hints at his family's mental quirks. He leads the plot, such as it is: Doctor goes to family castle in Transylvania and, following in his grandfather's footsteps, creates The Monster from human parts.
Synthia Link's Inga, Frankenstein's assistant, fills a role similar to Ulla in Brooks' earlier hit "The Producers": Blonde, perky and, ahem, shapely. Link gives her a lot of heart, as well.
Cory English as Igor (pronounced Eye-gore, thank you) is the class clown, tossing off one-liners and puns, fumbling with his ever-shifting hump. And Joanna Glushak as the mysteriously severe housekeeper — every good castle has one — is a hoot, lowering her voice to its bottom register, spitting out v's for w's and wailing about her fierce devotion to a previous mad scientist in "He Vas My Boyfriend."
Janine Divita, as Frankenstein's self-absorbed fiancée Elizabeth, gets two of Brooks' best songs. In "Please Don't Touch Me," she details all the perverse ways her fiance can have his wicked way with her — but only (to his increasing frustration) in his imagination.
And in "Deep Love," she's enthralled with The Monster's size (please don't make me explain further) with the dirty song, given extra zing by its musical nod to the virginal anthem "One Love" from Disney's " Snow White."
Pop-culture references fly by willy-nilly: Shout-outs to "Gypsy," the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," macchiatos, even the Black Eyed Pea's pop song "My Humps."
Most of the humor, however, remains firmly planted in the nether regions:
Inga: "Have you thought of any ways you could use me?"
Frederick, eyes glued to her cleavage: "Two. … And I'm working on a third."
Strangely, the Act 1 finale and Act 2 opener — generally a show's strong numbers — meander ineffectually. And like most shows with minimal plot, an air of stretching things out hangs over parts of the second act.
But every time the show threatens to start wheezing, some clever trick breathes new life into it: A ghostly nightmare conjures a creepily effective Monster puppet practically out of thin air. The "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene turns into a Broadway tap number with a surprise strobe-light effect.
It may just be another old trick — give 'em the old "razzle-dazzle" to disguise a lack of substance — but who needs substance when there's this much lowbrow fun?
Matthew J. Palm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5038.
See for yourself
•What: Touring production of the Mel Brooks musical comedy
•When: 8 p.m. through Friday; 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sunday
•Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
Theater review: 'Young Frankenstein' from Broadway Across America
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