Broadway created a monster when it brought to life the movie-based musical, so in a way “Young Frankenstein” — the story of a beast made sentient by science and show tunes — might be the ultimate screen-to-stage lab project.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s new production of the 2007 show certainly makes a case for this exuberantly goofy adaptation of the 1974 Mel Brooks movie: The just-opened monster mash-up is so much fun it might give even Mary Shelley (author of the original 1818 Frankenstein novel) the giggles.
SDMT was smart to schedule this horror spoof in the run-up to Halloween — not a lot of competition out there for that particular breed of holiday musical.
But the company and ace director Larry Raben, who has played the central role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein several times in other productions, were even smarter to cast Kevin Hafso Koppman as the lead here.
If it’s a jolt of electricity that brings the monster to life, Hafso Koppman is like the show’s ground wire — keeping laughs flowing while not letting the zaniness spark off in all directions.
What I loved most about Hafso Koppman’s performance (in addition to his good vocal work) is the way he cannily underplays his reactions, and keeps Victor for the most part focused and sober even when things get utterly bonkers; it takes the best of comic instincts to let laughs play around you rather than chasing after them.
Besides, it’s the other people around Frederick who are given most of the shameless scenery-chewing in this mainly faithful adaptation of the movie, written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with songs by Brooks.
They include a perfectly dour and wry Christine Hewitt as the severe Frau Blücher, matron of the castle in Transylvania where Frederick — American grandson of the scientist who became infamous for animating corpses — has traveled to see after the family legacy.
They also include the marvelous, super-kinetic Jonathan Sangster as Igor, Fred’s impish, black-hooded sidekick — you’ll remember the bug-eyed Marty Feldman from the movie, but Sangster puts his own mark on the role.
Kelly Derouin is a comic natural as Inga, the fresh-faced and attractive lab assistant whose bond with Frederick becomes a running joke of not-so-subtle innuendo.
The most memorably quirky turn, though, has to be Melina Kalomas’ perfectly pitched performance as Frederick’s elegant but cruelly withholding fiance Elizabeth, whose cheery theme song is “Please Don’t Touch Me.”
And when the monster is brought to life, Donny Gersonde invests the towering green ghoul with both understated hilarity and sympathy, impressively soft-shoeing through his signature bit “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” (There was also a funny cameo on opening night by SDMT co-founder Gary Lewis; best to leave a bit of mystery around that.)
Daniel Smith’s choreography is spectacular throughout, and the crisp rhythms of conductor Don LeMaster’s orchestra keep things humming, aided by Kevin Anthenill’s sharp sound design in the cozy Horton Grand.
The Gothic-minded sets by Mathys Herbert and Networks are augmented by excellent projections (plus one pretty stunning puppet visual), as well as Michelle Miles’ suitably spooky lighting; Janet Pitcher’s costumes are ideal all around.
While the one-intermission show (which runs more than 150 minutes) starts to sag slightly in the second act, Raben’s capable ensemble brings vivid life to “Ritz,” “Join the Family Business” and other boisterous numbers.
The show may not be great art, but it is a great time, and you might even have to be a monster to disagree.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 28.
Where: San Diego Musical Theatre at the Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter.
Phone: (858) 560-5740