B’way at Bass boasts familiar line-up

Everything old isn’t always new again — sometimes it’s just old.

That seems to be the case with the upcoming 2011-12 Broadway at the Bass Series, which takes place at Bass Hall in Fort Worth. The selection of splashy musicals probably looks familiar, because most of these tours have already been to North Texas — some quite recently.

The season kicks off on Nov. 8 with Shrek the Musical (last year’s State Fair musical). That’s followed by Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (opening Nov. 29), Monty Python’s Spamalot (currently playing at Fair Park Music Hall; opens Feb. 7), Marry Poppins (the State Fair Musical two years ago, opens March 27), and ending with Blue Man Group, which bored me to tears at the Winspear earlier this season (June 26).

In addition, three “add-on” shows — not part of the season subscription — will play: The Wizard of Oz (Sept. 30), The Midtown Men (Oct. 26 only) and Young Frankenstein (March 14 and 15; is played at the Winspear earlier this season).

To me, that looks like a pretty safe line-up; then again, if you missed any of these when they came through the first time, this is your chance to catch them finally.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Young Frankenstein’ today at the Winspear

Waiting for that schwanzstucker?

We hear it’s huge, but that was from the movie. Will the musical version of Young Frankenstein be as funny and have all the sexy innuendo? With Mel Brooks still behind it, we’re betting yes.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 2 p.m. Through Jan. 23. $30–$98. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Frau wow

HOUSEKEEPER FROM HELL  |  Joanna Glushak’s Frau Blucher gets one of the best gay songs in ‘Young Frankenstein:’ ‘He Vas My Boyfriend.’

Joanna Glushak helps turn ‘Young Frankenstein’ into something rare: A tour that outshines the original

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

When Mel Brooks turned his iconic 1970s black-and-white comedy, Young Frankenstein, into a big-budget Broadway musical, it had all the components of a smash hit: Huge stars, a beloved story, spectacular production values. The result was a fun night at a New York theater, but it didn’t live up to expectations.

Then it went on tour and everything changed for the better. And Joanna Glushak’s delightful scenery chewing as Frau Blucher is a major reason why.

“I think a few things happened,” explains Glushak, who has portrayed Young Dr. F’s housekeeper since the show began touring in September 2009. “The cast is different in a good and bad way: The [original cast] was a very, very contentious cast because they had all these stars vying for attention and jokes and I think there was a lot of tension on that stage.”

Another change was scaling back the sets, which were competing with the actors themselves.

“The sets were humongous — we actually used those sets on the first leg of the tour. We downsized to a much smaller version, so we got rid of the big lab towers that flew up in the air. This gives you more focus on the actors and the humor. All that flying and all the mishegas kind of dwarfed the humor. We’re all sharing the stage now and playing with each other. I don’t think they were doing that as well on Broadway.”

The camaraderie among the new cast is apparent to anyone in the audience. There’s a gleam in their eyes and even moments when it seems that the actors are introducing new lines or jokes to make each other laugh. But in the end, they’re working from a classic comedy script, so some things will never change — even character traits from the original film. And Glushak had some big shoes to fill, following several notoriously campy icons on screen and stage.

“Each role comes to you differently,” Glushak says. “For this one, I watched Cloris Leachman’s performance [in the film] and tried to steal what she did. I’m not like her, but I could feel what she was doing. It made sense to me. I saw Andrea Martin [on Broadway], and it was different, of course, but it gave me a sense of freedom that I could take from both of them and still bring my own thing to it. So my feeling is you steal from the best and then you make it your own. You don’t turn your nose up at something that works.”

Glushak says the Frau Blucher role is a dream job for a character actress and one she’s thrilled to have landed.

“Mel Brooks writes with a rhythm, a very Jewish rhythm at times. Being Jewish, I get it. It’s in my blood. So I feel like I was born to play this role, I hate to say. It sounds so tacky, but in a way, I get it,” she says. “I come from the same background as Mel Brooks in a sense.”

One of the highlights of her stint in the show was the opportunity to meet Brooks.

“He’s been absolutely wonderful. That was the highlight of my life. I grew up looking at his movies, I never thought I’d meet him and talk to him and spend time with him, but I did. It’s amazing.”

Her favorite song, of course, is Blucher’s big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” which is very popular among gay audiences, probably due to the double-entendre laden lyrics about getting banged and plowed. Or maybe that her boyfriend won a three-legged race … all by himself.

“I don’t know if you know this, but the gay men’s choir [of Washington, D.C.] did a version of it,” she says. “I know it’s a big draw. It’s something new to sing at the musical theater bars!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

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.

………………………

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

Best Bets • 12.31.10

IMG_0107Friday 12.31

Chortling in the new year
You’ve chortled, don’t lie. Backdoor Comedy offers a funny approach to your midnight plans with its New Year’s Eve Extravanganza. The lineup includes BET’s Chris Brown, Emmy-winning funny lady Linda Stognar and headliner Paul Varghese who got his start in Dallas but went on to the big time with gigs on Showtime and Comedy Central. Chortle away.

DEETS: Backdoor Comedy, 8250 N. Central Expressway. $27–$43. 8 and 10:30 p.m. BackdoorComedy.com.

Sunday 01.02

Drag royalty says goodbye to Dallas
After 18 years of performing, Wayne Smith will do a final show before saying farewell to Dallas. Smith is most famous for his spot-on impersonation of Cher. This month’s Drag Brunch isn’t just about the mimosas and frittatas, it’s about saying goodbye to Smith who’s become legend in these parts.

DEETS: Dish, 4123 Cedar Springs Road. 11 a.m. For reservations call 214-522-3474.

Tuesday 01.04

Waiting for that schwanzstucker?
We hear it’s huge, but that was from the movie. Will the musical version of Young Frankenstein be as funny and have all the sexy innuendo? With Mel Brooks still behind it, we’re betting yes.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Through Jan. 23. $30–$98. ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas