(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: Puttin’ on the Ritz with Young Frankenstein

After the Broadway musical of his Oscar-winning movie The Producers won a record number of Tony Awards, comedy legend Mel Brooks naturally turned to another of his beloved films for adaptation. Young Frankenstein, though not as successful as its predecessor, is now on tour and making its southern California premiere. It will run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood from July 27-August 8 before moving to the Orange County Performing Arts Center September 12-25.

The 1974 movie and 2007 musical both owe their inspiration to Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein. However, there is little that is serious or scary in Brooks’ version. Young Frankenstein finds the mad scientist’s grandson, an esteemed New York brain surgeon, comically trying to live down his family’s reputation. He famously goes so far as to pronounce his name “Fraunkensteen.” Alas, he unwittingly finds himself in Transylvania and soon resumes the traditional family business of re-animating corpses.

I recently spoke with Stephen Carrasco, an out member of the touring company’s ensemble, about the production.

“I’m having a blast,” Carrasco said of his stint with the tour, which began in August of 2009. “It’s such a great show, and I love making people laugh every night.” He mentioned how much he is looking forward to spending time in southern California.

A “triple threat” who acts, sings and dances, the 26-year old Carrasco grew up outside Lansing, Michigan. He moved to New York in 2006, shortly after his college graduation, and soon found himself on Broadway in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

“I love to work and love being in the ensemble; that’s what I do well,” Carrasco said. “I’d like to do a couple more Broadway shows and would then love to assistant-choreograph a show.”

Young Frankenstein did not receive a warm welcome upon its New York opening despite the involvement of the creative team behind The Producers: songwriter Brooks, director-choreographer Susan Stroman, and co-writer Thomas Meehan. It was an enormously expensive production that became the first Broadway show to raise ticket prices to $125.

I asked Carrasco about the musical’s less-than-stellar reputation. “If you look at Broadway critics’ reviews over the last two years, they are really harsh” he replied. “They expect every show to be a Pulitzer Prize-winner. This isn’t a show to think about, but just to sit back and enjoy and have fun.”

Having listened to the original cast recording repeatedly over the last two years, I can attest that Young Frankenstein has much to recommend it musically. The songs are both funnier and more accomplished than those in The Producers, with such movie-inspired titles as “Roll in the Hay,” “Transylvania Mania” and “Please Don’t Touch Me.” The creepy house servant Frau Blucher, immortalized in the film by Cloris Leachman, sings “He Vas My Boyfriend,” and the Irving Berlin classic “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is naturally included in the stage version.

What’s more, contemporary Broadway stars Roger Bart, Shuler Hensley and Brad Oscar are headlining the tour. Bart and Hensley are re-creating their roles from the original production as, respectively, Frederick Frankenstein and the Monster. Bart is also well known for playing numerous gay roles over the years, including the flamboyant Carmen Ghia in The Producers (both on stage and in the 2005 movie version) and one-half of the gay couple in the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives. Oscar, who succeeded Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in The Producers on Broadway, plays the wacky, one-armed Inspector Kemp.

As Carrasco noted, “It goes to show who Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman are; they can really bring out the pros.”

Carrasco also believes Young Frankenstein holds special appeal for GLBT theatergoers. “Ok, I’m going to go along with some stereotypes here, but there’s a lot of T&A in the show. It’s also a huge, lavish musical. I’m gay and I love that!”

“Also,” he continued, “gay and lesbian people are more liberal and know better than most how to sit back and enjoy life.”

On that note, Carrasco shared that he is “very single, and I love being single on tour.” If you hang around the stage door after a performance of Young Frankenstein, you may get the chance to meet this talented and attractive young performer.

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the official website of Young Frankenstein.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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