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On Theater: Adapting classic for musical

September 16, 2010|By Tom Titus

How do you adapt one of the funniest movies of all time into a Broadway musical? For one thing, you make it even funnier.

Mel Brooks accomplished this with his musical version of "The Producers," one of his earlier movies. It was a huge success, so much so that it was thought he couldn't possibly top it — especially since the comedian is now an octogenarian.

There are two great comedies by Brooks apart from "The Producers." One is the Western spoof "Blazing Saddles" and the other is "Young Frankenstein." Brooks opted to turn the latter into a Broadway show, and the results are being hilariously presented at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

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Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan knew their original script was a treasure, so they kept most of it intact — the "walk this way," "what hump?" and "roll in the hay" gags remain in embellished form. What's new, and gloriously so, in this revised incarnation are some highly original choreographic moves (including an eye-popping strobe light scene) and some equally impressive technical sound and lighting effects.

All the familiar characters are present and magnified in director-choreographer Susan Stroman's outlandishly funny production (she also helmed "The Producers"). And Brooks has written music and lyrics for the original score. Original, that is, with the notable exception of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," here expanded from a duet to a huge ensemble number, the best of the show).

The cast is flawless, headed by Christopher Ryan in Gene Wilder's old role as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("that's Fronk-en-steen"), grandson of the monster maker, who travels to Transylvania and reluctantly exhumes his ancestor's life-restoring secrets (detailed in a dusty book titled "How I Did It"). Ryan's quick wit and even faster feet carry the show splendidly.

Brooks seem to have a penchant for tall, leggy, gorgeous blondes and Synthia Link could well have stepped into this show from "The Producers." She's basically the same character as Oola in her glorious stint as Inga, dripping with beauty, sex appeal and the dancing skills of a Rockette, which Link formerly was.

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