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Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein

After Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” had tremendous success when it was adapted as a musical, people were paying upwards of $400 a ticket to see Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” when it debuted on Broadway in November 2007. Although it wasn’t as successful as “The Producers” (how could it be?), it still earned three Tony nominations and has been on its national tour since 2009.

The story is similar to that of Brooks’ 1974 film: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, an esteemed New York brain surgeon and professor, inherits a castle and laboratory in Transylvania from his deranged grandfather and faces a dilemma: Does he continue to run from his family’s tortured past or does he stay in Transylvania to carry on his grandfather’s mad experiments reanimating the dead and, in the process, fall in love with his sexy lab assistant Inga?

The musical includes the songs “The Transylvania Mania,” “He Vas My Boyfriend” and Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” I recently spoke with Dr. Frankenstein himself, Christopher Ryan, to learn more about the show.

People don’t realize that Brooks’ works often contain very subtle, very intelligent references, such as Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in “Spaceballs.” Are there any such jokes in “Young Frankenstein?”

I think it’s a little bit of everything. But the closest I can think of to this is the classroom setting in the beginning where Dr. Frankenstein is discussing the anatomy of the brain to his students, and it’s a musical number.

You’re playing a role originated by Broadway veteran Roger Bart, which means you have big shoes to fill. Pressure?

I wouldn’t say it adds to the pressure, but I know somewhere in my mind I have big shoes to fill. At the same time I don’t want that to overshadow my own take on the role. I’m so grateful I got to watch Roger as I did having been with the company for the past year and getting to step in for him a few times. I like to glean what I can from Roger’s performance, but I reference a lot of Gene Wilder’s take on the role from the movie as well.

What’s different with your take on the role?

Roger has his own spin on things that make him distinct. But I like the fact that I have a pretty diverse background as far as musicals go [“Spamalot”], so I’m more comfortable with some of the dance stuff.

You’ve been playing Dr. Frankenstein for five weeks now. How long does the rehearsal process take for someone to take over a lead role such as this?

Not very long. We rehearsed for two weeks before we started our tech rehearsal in Costa Mesa. Most of the principles had all been involved prior, so there was less that had to be taught and only some readjusting, so that consumed a lot of the time. I was a cover for the past year, so I had the advantage of having gone on numerous times and I more or less knew the framework in which to work.

Your favorite song in the show?

“Together Again,” which is sung the first time Igor and Dr. Frankenstein meet. But “Puttin’ on the Ritz” doesn’t disappoint either.

What’s your favorite Mel Brooks movie other than “Young Frankenstein?”

“Silent Movie.” I grew up loving Chaplin and Keaton, it’s a homage to slapstick comedy, and it’s so fantastic.