Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
August 30, 2013
People and things aren’t always what they seem. A standoffish socialite can be a slut. A monster can be a lover. And a lover can be a monster — as a high-spirited musical and a black comedy deftly prove.
But be on guard, because Mel Brooks is on the loose at Moonlight Amphitheatre. Well, not really Brooks himself, just his wacky musical adaptation of his beloved, creature-feature, “Young Frankenstein.” The madcap creator hit paydirt by musicalizing “The Producers,” and he probably thought he’d strike gold again. But though the book is guffaw-inducing, “Young Frankenstein’s” music contributes little to the story or characters, and it lengthens the piece unnecessarily. “ Puttin ’ on the Ritz,” with the tuxedoed monster clomping around and straining to sing the title line, however unintelligibly, is still the highlight of the show.
The Moonlight production is just about flawless. And hilarious. Continuing a season that’s been technically and musically terrific, Moonlight again pulls out all the stops, renting sets and costumes from the Broadway tour, with director Matthew J. Vargo , who served as assistant to the brilliant choreographer Susan Stroman, re-creating all her remarkable moves. And in case you were wondering, the leads are dazzlers.
You might think the iconic film cast is inimitable. Think again. Jamie Torcellini is a laugh-riot as Igor, he of the moving hump. Tracy Lore is amusingly austere as the Teutonic housekeeper, Frau Blücher ; Noelle Marion is blondely fetching as the oversexed lab assistant; Jessica Bernard is killer as that hypocritical socialite with a knockout number, “Deep Love.” And as the brain-obsessed doctor – that’s FronkenSTEEN , remember — Larry Raben is perfect, as is Randall Hickman as the revitalizer’s lovable, green-faced creation. With excellent sound, lighting, orchestra and special effects, and a surfeit of Brooksian shtick, musicals don’t get much funnier, sillier (or raunchier).
“Young Frankenstein” spoofs horror movies with big, bold strokes. “Desperate Affection” has a horror that sneaks up on you, and grabs you by the throat. The dark romcom , by Philadelphian Bruce Graham, starts out innocuous enough, with a frustrated New York actress who’s finally found the Mr. Right who fulfills her every need. Until she discovers his One Big Flaw. Still, she’ll do anything to keep him – handcuffs, handguns and all.
The 90-minute play features neck-snapping twists. But in this first collaboration between two long-dormant companies: Ascension Theatre and Black Ensemble Theatre, the suspense would be greatly heightened by more sizzle and sexual chemistry between Charmen Jackson and Rhys Greene, who serve as stars, directors, producers and set designers. It’s an earnest, occasionally thrilling effort, and an enticing intro to Graham’s provocative work.
As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.
“DESPERATE AFFECTION” runs through August 31 at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the New Mel Brooks Musical” continues through September 7 at Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista.
©2013 PAT LAUNER