Monsters, Mayhem and Mel Brooks

The Actor’s Cabaret of Eugene brings Young Frankenstein to Life

It’s Fronkonsteen!” he barks, steadfastly denying his monster-making roots in Transylvania. But when the death of his grandfather necessitates a trip back to the family castle, the temptation is too great. The young neuroscientist’s eyes glow as he reads through his infamous grandfather’s notes. He becomes possessed by possibility of creating life. The townsfolk, long horrified by the Frankenstein family business of animating corpses, don’t trust this transplanted New Yorker with a turnip, much less a newly dead body and an abnormal brain. When a massive, bluish purple, ridiculously well-endowed abomination comes lurching out of his laboratory, they grab their pitch forks and break into a song and dance — because this is, after all, a Mel Brooks play. Somewhere between The Rocky Horror Picture Show (but way less gross) and a 1930s thriller (but way more fun) is Young Frankenstein.

Frankenstein opened on Broadway in 2007 to a whole lot of whining, as critics compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ previous film-turned-Broadway musical The Producers. But Mel Brooks is remarkably consistent. His work is hysterical one moment, meandering at others and packed with every joke about huge “knockers” or a massive “schwanzstucker” that can possibly be made. There are times in Frankenstein when you are laughing so hard it’s difficult to see, and others when you feel you are lost in the final, flaccid third of Blazing Saddles. But with any Mel Brooks production, one can almost feel the author in the wings, urging us to hold on through a laborious set up, then laughing with us when the jokes finally come.

This production is quite obviously a labor of love for director Mark VanBeever. He concocts a theatrical frenzy of near reverential attention to the details of the film and fresh characterization. The show includes the best dancing that I’ve seen at ACE, with choreography by VanBeever and Alexander Holmes. A surreal “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” with the monster in top hat and tails, had the audience howling.

As always, the Cabaret manages to take a Broadway extravaganza and pare it down to 20-member cast on a tiny outcropping of a stage, providing a welcome, brash and loud form of entertainment. The music is tinned and the set is nothing fancy, giving the actors a greater responsibility to hold up the show. An invested ensemble changes clothing and character faster than an actress out of rehab, lending a sense of vaudeville to the evening.

Tyler Ankenman is nearly perfect as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. He’s really acting, rather than mugging his way though the role; his strong performance anchors the show. Megan Simone’s hay-rolling, orgasm-yodeling Inga is fun and vapid. Austin Vanderplaat and Jen Ferrow with their respective mobile humps and moles make a great pair of henchmen. Megan Hammon is brassy as Dr. Frankenstein’s “adorable and madcap fiancee.” Nick Rylands is a charming monster.

So if you’re in the mood for huuuuge … entertainment, take a trip to Transylvania for straight-up, hard-hitting, deeply penetrating fun.

Young Frankenstein runs through Nov. 2 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; $16-$41.95.

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