“If you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death.” –Mel Brooks
When Paramount Productions raises the curtain June 28th to present Mel Brooks’ hilarious musical take on his own “Young Frankenstein film”, a new generation of actors, singers, designers, and musicians join the ribald ranks of this master comedian.
A “monster” hit of the 2007 Broadway season, the same producing team that brought Brooks’ previous film “The Producers” to musical life put “Young Frankenstein” together. The show uses his 1974 film, a comedic take on the Frankenstein legend, as a jumping off point and adds Brooks’ own music and lyrics.
Paramount Productions, as part of the landmark theatre’s programming, brings its own version of the musical to life June 28-30. The Paramount has been producing a major musical every summer since 1994. The local production brings together an eclectic mix of local and regional artists, including a Hollywood veteran, a former Marine, a child performer returning to the Paramount stage as an adult, a local media celebrity, and two aspiring artists with dreams of running away with the circus.
“Young Frankenstein” has an elaborate costume plot that requires enormous planning and skill to execute. Enter Richard Transki, a San Angelo native who has racked up a long string of Hollywood film credits, then returned to his roots in West Texas to escape the hectic pace of the film industry. Since his return, his focus has shifted to the theatre, and his stunning designs have enhanced a long series of Paramount shows, including “The Producers”, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.”, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and “Jekyll & Hyde.”
Abilene native Cole Ruster plays Inspector Kemp, the Nazi-like village detective with a wooden arm and leg. Cole joined the Marine Corps shortly after high school, but has always had an interest in the performing arts. Cole’s father brought him to the Paramount for the first time when he was eight years old. His mother worked in the Paramount box office in 1973 at the age of 16.
The role of Inga, the innocent-but-sexy village girl who becomes Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant and love interest is played by Sara Williams, an Abilene Christian University theatre major. Sara first took to the Paramount stage in 1995 as a middle school student when she was cast in the lead role of Sandy in “Grease: The School Edition”.
When asked about returning eight years later as an adult she said, “I never thought I would still be doing theatre years later and pursuing it as a career. The Paramount has influenced me in ways I can’t express.”
The search for an actor to take on the role of The Monster brought to life by the mad Dr. Frankenstein led directly to George Levesque, well known to Abilene audiences not only for his work on local theatre stages, but his “day job” as programming director and new anchor for KXTS-TV, the local ABC news affiliate. A Colorado City native who was a standout during his collegiate career as a theatre major at McMurry University, George (of monster-like stature and commanding voice) seemed a perfect fit.
Levesques’ answer to the question of how he felt taking on this role: “How wonderful to be in a beloved comedy like this, and play an iconic character like the monster. It’s a challenge, but for every actor there is a real thrill in playing a character that you never thought you’d have a chance to play.”
The title role of the brilliant surgeon who returns to Transylvania to settle his grandfather’s estate is filled by Hardin Simmons University theatre major Jeremiah Johnson. His collegiate career has already taken him to Scotland’s acclaimed Edinburgh Theatre Festival, where HSU presented a world-premiere production of the Shauna Kanter’s American Dust Bowl drama “Birds on a Wire”.
Jeremiah is joined in the “Young Frankenstein” cast by Sam Cress, another HSU theatre major (and Edinburgh participant) taking on the zany role of Igor, the doctor’s sidekick. Both Jeremiah and Sam have similar career aspirations—they want to become clowns and join the ranks of comedic performers in either Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey, or with the prestigious Canadian Cirque Du Soleil organization.
Their considerable skills will be put to good use in “Young Frankenstein”, when the first act’s vaudeville-like duet “Together Again for the First Time,” has them juggling balls, rings, pins, and each other.
Theatre is a richly collaborative art form. At its root is a sense of community through communication. Join a wonderful cast of performers and musicians this summer in Abilene’s landmark theatre for a rollicking time with an all-Abilene cast of Mel Brooks’ monster hit musical “Young Frankenstein”. And remember…”stay close to the candles, the stairway can be treacherous.”