Shuler Hensley (left) is the Monster and Roger Bart is Dr. Frederick Frankensein in the national tour of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at the Golden Gate Theatre. Photo by Paul Kolnik
If you need proof of how lively and diverse the San Francisco theater scene can be, let me direct your attention to two wildly different shows I’ve seen recently. One is about as old fashioned as it gets, while the other is wonderfully experimental.
For sheer retro-musical theater pleasures, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein – at the Golden Gate Theatre until July 25 – is a prime example of Grade B goods. There was a time on Broadway – think the 1950s and early ’60s – when these kinds of shows populated the Great White Way. Taking the term “musical comedy” to heart, these shows have no objective other than to please its audience for a couple of hours. A few laughs, a few hummable tunes, and we’re done.
With The Producers Brooks fulfilled a lifelong passion to create a musical theater blockbuster. Now Brooks is settling into his groove with Young Frankenstein, an extremely faithful version of his classic 1974 movie (co-written with star Gene Wilder). As a recycler of his own material, Brooks sticks to the formula that worked for the movie and supplies songs that, while not as catchy as those in The Producers, are appealing.
The loosey-goosey feel of the entire production, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, Brooks’ partner on The Producers, means that the actors are free to ham it up as much as they want. Star Roger Bart, of the original Broadway production, takes that notion to heart and is hammy and winky-wink to the audience as I imagine Ray Bolger might have been back in the day.
Shuler Hensley (another conquering hero from the Broadway production) as the monster doesn’t have the freedom to yuk it up, but he’s big and green and funny, especially when performing Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Brad Oscar goes to town as the blind man visited by the monster and squeezes every possible laugh in a role originated on film by none other than Gene Hackman.
Young Frankenstein does not breathe new life into musical theater, nor does it electrify on its own merits. But it is a generally pleasing, vintage-feeling show that makes audiences happy.
A few blocks away from the Golden Gate, local dance world star Joe Goode and his Joe Goode Performance Group are reviving a fascinating show that combines dance, theater, song, spoken word and art installation.
Traveling Light roams the echoing halls and chambers of the Old Mint, once a thriving center of big money and now a historic footnote waiting to be restored and revived. In the meantime, Goode and his company are the best thing to hit the Mint since gold bullion.
The audience is split into four groups to view the quartet of scenes that take place in different parts of the building. At the end of each segment, a guide takes you quickly to where the next tableaux unfurls. It’s all expertly handled, and the excitement of experiencing such a perfectly orchestrated musing on the meaning of money and value burbles throughout the show’s entire 90 minutes or so.
Mention must be made of Jack Carpenter’s lighting, which is a show unto itself – not that it distracts from the performances or calls too much attention to itself. It’s just so exquisite that I found myself wanting to watch the show again just to watch the shifting lights and shadows, especially in the segment that takes place in a courtyard that makes you feel like you’re in Ancient Rome.
Joe Goode’s Traveling Light is a must see for so many reasons – it’s bold, beautiful, impeccably produced and highly original. And you just can’t see it anywhere else.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein continues through July 25 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call (415) 512 7770 or visit www.shnsf.com.
Joe Goode Performance Group’s Traveling Light continues through Aug. 1 at the Old Mint, 88 Fifth St., San Francisco. Tickets are $34-$44. Please note: there are additional 10pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays. Call (415) 561-6565 or visit www.joegoode.org.