It’s alive!!

‘Young Frankenstein’ musical improves on original B’way version with great cast, classic shtick

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

yf1_196
TRANSYLVANIA MANIA | A mad scientist (Christopher Ryan, center) creates a monster with the help of Inga (Synthia Link), Igor (Cory English) and Frau Blucher (Joanna Glushak) in a hilarious ‘Frankenstein.’

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Through Jan. 23.
ATTPAC.org.

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The danger with stage-musical adaptations of revered comic movies is that they can seem like retreads a familiar material … unless they go entirely in another direction, where they risk alienating the core fans who loved the original. Which is it: Rerun or square one?

The consensus over the last dozen or more years has been to play it safe: Spamalot kept most of the Monty Python shtick, The Producers recreates “Springtime for Hitler,” Hairspray (probably the least well-known of the sources) tweaked the plot but retained the man in drag lead.

Young Frankenstein, which is settling in for a three-week stint at the Winspear Opera House, was adapted by Mel Brooks from his best film, and his signature Borscht Belt humor remains intact: The double entendres (lots of boob jokes and suggestive allusions to penis size), the one-liners, the well-worn gags (whenever the crone Frau Blucher’s name is spoken, horses whinny). But somehow, these don’t seem tired but timeless. It’s almost as funny as watching the film, with new songs that give it a polished theatricality.

Frederick (“it’s pronounced ‘Fronk-en-shteen’”) is the grandson of the notorious ghoul Victor, who unleashed a monster nearly a century earlier on torch-wielding villages in Central Europe. Frederick is a respected surgeon in the U.S., but returns to claim his grandfather’s estate. Instead, Frederick is seduced by Victor’s genius, and starts the whole process over, with a green, tap-dancing creature who’s very popular with the ladies.

As Frederick (or is it Froederick?), Christopher Ryan makes for a rubbery, bright-eyed hero. A cross between Ben Stiller (before he sold out to Fockerdom) and SNL’s Bill Hader, he has more charisma and comic chops than Roger Bart, who created the role on Broadway. Limber physically and lyrically, on “The Brain” he doffs a litany of scientists’ names more trippingly than a Gilbert & Sullivan specialist.

Ryan doesn’t steal the show, though; no one does. The entire cast is tight, all with superb comic sensibilities. The most outrageous performance comes from Cory English as Igor, Frederick’s stooge. Marty Feldman, who created the role in the film, was a singular talent, bug-eyed and fearless, so English’s ability to make Igor his own while still honoring Feldman is surprising. (Young Frankenstein is less gay than Brooks’ other “monster,” the wildly successful The Producers, but English camps it up.)

Joanna Glushak’s Frau Blucher — pulled tighter than Faye Dunaway at a Botox convention — captures Cloris Leachman’s startled, repressed spinster with grand delight, especially on her solo “He Vas My Boyfriend.” Janine Divita — playing the Madeline Kahn role originated by Megan Mullally in the Broadway version — brings her own energy to a part hand-crafted for two indelible stars.

Not all of the gimmicks played well with a slightly tame Winspear audience this week; the repeated lyric “tits, tits, tits” led to uncomfortable tittering, and a joke about a gay bar fell flat. But director/choreographer Susan Stroman has a light touch with the material, at once cheekily ironic and spot-on old-school flash: “Puttin’ on the Ritz” becomes a production number worthy of Busby Berkeley. Now that’s a show to see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Labor Day play with ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’ at Theatre Three

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

DEETS: Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Bed time story

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

THREE’S COMPANY | Gary Floyd, center, straddles the fence between his two lovers played by Patty Breckenridge and Christopher Wagley. (Photo by Ken Birdsell)

UNMADE BED
Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

………………………………

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

Dobson employed an informal audition process, seeking out people he wanted to work with who would combine musically and emotionally in sync with his conception of the show. And in a weird instance of art imitating life, the cast of three includes two old friends and a newcomer, all of whom are gay.

Dobson jokes that several local actors who lobbied for the plum role of the bisexual will be gunning for Gary Floyd, but few would argue with the wisdom of his casting. Floyd was already a popular and admired singer and recording artist for decades before he tackled his first acting role in 2003’s Pump Boys and Dinettes, and he fast became a go-to guy for musical roles.

Floyd met Patty Breckenridge in 2006 in what became her breakout role in Aida at Uptown Players. The next fall, they teamed up again for City of Angels at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, but this is the first onstage pairing since then for the close friends.

“It’s about time!” Floyd laughs.

“I kinda dropped out of theater for a while, just enjoying married life,” says Breckenridge, who married her wife Carrie Anne last year (the couple are currently expecting a baby in the spring). “But I was getting that itch to go back onstage. Then Terry called me and said, ‘I want to head in a different direction with this.’”

Breckenridge was onboard.

If there was an intimidation factor being odd-man out, Christopher Wagley doesn’t show it — or at least, he can use it to get into his character. Stepping into the chummy twosome has been easy for the newcomer to Dallas in his first show here.

Wagley spent 12 years in New York, acting and waiting tables early on (“I loved being an actor but hated being a waiter” he says), before moving to Dallas last year. Within a month, he was singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Encore! group, which Dobson leads.

“There has been no issue at all,” Wagley says. “The fact we blend together so well musically is a byproduct of getting along together so well.”

Musically, they all related to the show, written by lyricist Mark Campbell with a score contributed by 18 different composers, including Jake Heggie, the gay musician who wrote the world premiere adaptation of Moby-Dick for the Dallas Opera this year.

“The lyrics are so universal, it could be a straight woman or a gay man or a bisexual,” Floyd says. Wagley agrees.

“The lyrics are so smart and absolutely universal, yet so incredibly specific to a gay man’s experience, whether it’s body issues or casual sex,” he says. Although Dobson had assigned all the songs to the cast, many tweaks have occurred during the rehearsal period.

“The other day, Terry asked me to sing one of the songs about not having a great body to myself [in a mirror] instead of to Gary — wow! It makes it so much more personal. We all have those moments.”

“I had heard of the musical from [my best friend, actor] Donald Fowler but hadn’t listened to any of the songs,” says Breckenridge. But she immediately became enchanted by it. “I have a couple of favorite songs. Everyone in the audience is going to relate to ‘Oh, To Be Stupid Again.’ I know I’ve been there. And ‘To Sing’ is why I became a performer.”

A lot happens in a quick one-hour show performed without intermission. “There are lots of poignant moments,” says Wagley.

None more poignant for the two old friends than one scene where Floyd has to simulate oral stimulation of Breckenridge.

“There’s no other woman in Dallas I would do that for!” Floyd avers.

“And there is no other man in town I’d do this with!” quips Breckenridge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens