Mel Brooks’ classic movie ‘Young Frankenstein’ takes the stage
by Alison Woo
When it comes to comedy, many look at Mel Brooks as the gold standard. Following the success of “The Producers,” a 1968 movie starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel that he turned into a musical and film with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, Brooks has been digging in his comedy vault for more theatrical goodies.
“Young Frankenstein,” his 1974 comedy classic with Wilder, Terry Garr, Madeline Kahn and Marty Goldman, is the most recent film-to-stage translation that packs all the comedy of the irreverent film and puts it to music.
The show makes its way to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center next week from March 15 to 20.
Leading the show is Christopher Ryan, who plays Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced as Fronkonsteen, thank you very much), grandson of the legendary character from the Mary Shelley novel.
“At first glance, he doesn’t want to be called ‘Frankenstein’ because he’s adamantly trying to separate himself from the family name and wrong doings and this type of person,” said Ryan, who was with the company touring in Madison, Wisc. “But I still get goose bumps from the scene when the monster comes to life. It is mind blowing to be part of something that changes the face of the humanity.”
Ryan doesn’t remember the first time he saw the “Frankenstein” film, but comedy was part of the path that inspired him to become an actor.
“It was sometime in middle school when I saw my first Mel Brooks movie “History of the World, Part I” with my stepbrother, and I loved it,” he said. “Middle school was also when I decided I would do theater. Between Brooks and Monty Python, they were huge inspirations.”
Both comedy legends from Ryan’s childhood dreams would play a big role in his professional future. The Georgia native, who grew up in Marietta, credits his mom and grandmother for exposing him to Atlanta’s thriving arts scene while growing up. He moved to New York after graduating from school and, shortly thereafter, booked a role in Python’s hit, “Spamalot.”
Soon he was on his way.
Ryan’s own story of how he landed the lead in the national tour of the show is remarkable. For 10 months, he served as understudy to Roger Bart, who initiated the role on Broadway, while he played a member of the chorus.
In rehearsals, he found a way to make the part his own. “The rehearsal process was great because we sat and talked about things that were very real to me – elements that I wanted to bring, that every night I try to focus on – but always keeping in mind it’s a comic piece, not brain surgery … pun intended!” he laughed.
One of those ways is fine-tuning the musical numbers. “The beauty of this show is that you have all of the moments from the iconic moments from the film turned into a musical, and it goes above and beyond to this musical extravaganza,” he said. “My favorite is when we first meet Igor and it turns into an homage to vaudeville. The song honoring the world’s greatest far-fetched pairs becomes a musical extravaganza.”
Speaking as a doctor, though only on the stage, Ryan believes humor can be a great prescription for what ails. “Comedy seems to be what we all need right now,” he said. “If you want to let go of everything that’s going on in the world for a couple of hours and enjoy yourself, come see the show. Laughter is the best medicine around.”
Tickets for “Young Frankenstein” begin at $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 704-371-1000 or visit www.carolinatix.org.