Were it not for the absolutely, comically deranged ensemble performances in Ricky Graham’s production of “Young Frankenstein,” set designer David Raphel and the technical staff at the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts would storm off with the show.
Looking like an unholy marriage between Morgus the Magnificent’s laboratory and the cartoonish landscapes of Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” Raphel’s set for Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of his own movie is a wonder cabinet of constant visual surprises and ridiculous terrors.
Scrims with ghastly projections drive us from the safety of New York classrooms into the dark mountains of Transylvania; backdrops of Eastern European villages frame angry mobs in search of monsters; and outsize Tesla coils pop and smoke to bring the dead back to life.
Lit by Scott Sauber like a Tod Browning Universal Picture and costumed by Linda Fried with the broad brush of old time Hollywood, “Young Frankenstein” is the story of Frederick Frankenstein (yes, it’s still pronounced Frank-en-steen) and his date with destiny (yes, he still sings it in his sleep).
Returning to the castle of his grandfather to settle the estate, the young doctor’s attempts to extricate himself from the gruesome family business prove futile. Soon after, aided by trusted minion Igor, buxom assistant Inga, and house matron Frau Bleucher (yes, the horses still go wild), he sets out to succeed where his ancestors failed.
All of that is merely an excuse for Graham, producer/star Gary Rucker, and the rest of the cast and staff to unleash a monstrously unhinged two-plus hours of winning songs, double entendres, crackerjack-timed visual gags, and some downright dirty punch lines.
No, it’s not perfect, but Graham’s blocking and Karen Hebert’s choreography move it so fast you’ll forget any missteps before they register.
Brooks’ book and lyrics are designed to keep hurling things at you until you drop dead from laughter.
The cast is delightfully disturbed. At the center of the storm is Rucker as the good doctor himself. It is a generous portrait of exasperation, slow burns and growing mania.
At the end of the train platform, Mason Wood as Igor is shifting his hump and lasciviously groping anything with a round backside.
Look behind the curtain, and you’ll see Jeffrey Springmann’s monster break his chains as he breaks your heart with the sweetest rendition of “Putting on The Ritz.”
Jump onto the back of a wagon, and you can join Elise Harvey as Inga in a sweetly perverted rendition of “Roll in the Hay.”
Stay close to the candles or you’ll miss Tracey E. Collins as Frau Bleucher sharing too much information and bringing down the house with “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
And don’t expect an ounce of mercy from Hannah Rachel as Frankenstein’s fiancé Elizabeth Benning. Doing a nice take on a role Madeline Kahn originated, Rachel throws the switch on the evening with the simultaneously restricted and unconstrained “Please Don’t Touch Me.”
From Butch Caire’s nifty double duty as a blind man and a limb-challenged constable, to a chorus that hangs on every word like it were a dark spell, the supporting players honor their stars by giving them every last bit of energy and support.
And I am not kidding when I say the entire staff deserves praise.
Alan Payne is a character in his own right conducting the orchestra, stage manager Christine Combel is worth a mention for calling the ebb and flow of a show that has more tentacles than a beast from the deep, and the house management makes you feel welcome from the moment you enter the theater.
They may have created a monster, because this is the standard to which I am holding everyone.