Palo Alto Players is one of the few local theatre companies that have noticeably stepped up their game over the last couple seasons (and next season, which was just announced, is NO exception). They’re doing fresher and far more ambitious works which demand big talent and huge tech to support a win and… they’re getting good at it. Where many groups don’t take a risk at all and even fewer actually succeed, Young Frankenstein (which is a bit like treading on sacred ground as far as I’m concerned) proved an admirable accomplishment from a hardworking and gifted group of individuals.
Because I grew up on the film (and I wasn’t the only one in the audience who clearly had been) I found myself doing quite a lot of preemptive laughing. This both enhanced my enjoyment of it (I knew what was coming and could laugh in anticipation and at the delivery in some cases) and took a bit away from the actors who admittedly, have very large shoes to fill. Over all our main characters did a fabulous of job of both paying homage to the classic characters created by the film actors and bringing their own, very enjoyable spin to each one. There were wonderful moments throughout from Igor, Elizabeth, Inga, Dr. Frankenstein, the Hermit, Frau Blucher and perhaps my favorite surprise, the Monster.
The ensemble is one of the tightest I’ve seen at PAP in a long time and they brought the funny and the vocal talent as well as the moves. The choreography didn’t exactly wow, but it was well executed with the degree of the skill of those dancing and that made for clean and enjoyable numbers. The orchestra was also tight pretty much all around with only a few minor balance and sour note issue in the first half.
A big thumbs up has to go to the lighting design and the set design as well as those in charge of moving those huge and too many to keep track of set pieces. The scene changes were clean and smooth and very cleverly done. I’m rarely distracted from watching how a change is completed (I just like to know how it all works), but there were several transitions that were so quick and so well covered, I was genuinely surprised at the result. Lots of locations to portray, lots of props coming in and out, and all of it looked great. There is no doubt in my mind this piece was logistically masterminded with a singular, clear vision and executed by a professionally astute team of techies.
While the show was long and felt that way, I can’t fault the production really in that one pretty significant negative. In essence the whole show takes one liners from the movie and transforms them into 10 minute production numbers. Over and over. And, over. I’m a sucker for comedy in repetition, but… there was too much show for me when all was said and done. While they might have certainly cut some of the dance breaks or reprises, one doesn’t always have that liberty with show rights and I will say that while long…there didn’t seem to be a second on stage when something wasn’t happening and someone in the audience was laughing.
The musical does take a much bawdier turn than the film. I know you hate me comparing, but it’s worth noting that while much of the jokes from the movie are in tact verbatim, the show is not steeped solely in innuendo. The stage production does have more graphic and explicitly adult-themed, jokes, songs, costuming and for lack of a better word, flavor. Nothing too Vegas or shocking mind you, but the content is taken a bit further as it would appear you can get away with a lot more on the stage when a film rating isn’t in consideration.
Talent abounds in this production and while 3 hours in a cold theater can be a challenge, that challenge is met with a lot of enjoyable camp delivered by a smart cast. Certainly worth seeing, the show gets 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a fun night provided you’re alert and have a coat for warmth! Young Frankenstein plays through May 11th at the Lucie Stern Center Theater in Palo Alto.