With Dance of the Vampires, Dracula The Musical, and Lestat quickly staked through the heart, tunesmiths have been looking for “undying” properties other than bloodsuckers to set to music. Mary Shelley's immortal tale of creature creation, Frankenstein, has done double duty this season in New York. An earnest, modestly scaled musical retelling of the story, starring Hunter Foster as the experimenter and Steve Blanchard as his monster, lumbered briefly across the stage of 37 Arts Off Broadway in November and December.

Modesty, however, is not the aim of Young Frankenstein, starting with its official title, which is The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. “It's good to be the king,” mused Brooks in his film The History of the World — Part 1, and with his musical of The Producers, which swept the Tonys in 2001, he became, to quote the title of one of its songs, “The King of Broadway.” For his return to the stage, Brooks has outfitted the best of his film parodies with music and lyrics that play right off its punchlines. Anyone who has seen the 1974 movie knows what to expect from songs like “Please Don't Touch Me,” “Please Send Me Someone,” and “Roll in the Hay,” and, with the help of a tip-top cast of musical comedy clowns that includes Producers costar Roger Bart (as Dr. Frederick Frank, err, “Fronnk”enstein), Sutton Foster (sister of Hunter, as his buxom assistant, Inga), Megan Mullally (his ultra-chic fiancée, Elizabeth), Andrea Martin (the spooky Frau Blucher), and Christopher Fitzgerald (hunchbacked aide-de-camp Igor), he delivers. Once again, director and choreographer Susan Stroman was entrusted to bring the screen to the stage, taking, for example, the burlesque of Irving Berlin's “Puttin' on the Ritz” between the doctor and The Monster (Shuler Hensley, a movie Monster in 2004's Van Helsing) and turning it into an extravagant, eye-popping dance number.

None of this came cheap. Indeed, its estimated $16 million cost, and top ticket price of $450, received as many reviews as the show when it opened at the Hilton Theatre on November 8. But sound designer Jonathan Deans is quick to add that the money, while clearly evident on the stage, was spent wisely. “It had just as stringent a budget as any other show. The floodgates weren't open. It was very well-controlled. Everything we use in that theatre is maximized,” he says.

Deans joins a winning team: Set designer Robin Wagner, lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski, and costume designer William Ivey Long all took home Tonys for The Producers. (Deans is himself eligible for a Tony this season, as the awards finally consider sound design.) While the show is chock full of big, brash, crowd-pleasing elements, in one of the more cavernous Broadway houses (but 2,000 seats smaller than its summer tryout venue in Seattle, the Paramount Theatre), it's the little touches — “the ones you might not see beyond the $450 seats,” Long jokes — and those not immediately apparent, no matter where you are, that the designers talked most expansively about.

Design-wise, Young Frankenstein began as The Producers had, with “Stro,” as the director is called, and Wagner cooking up the scenic atmosphere. Visually translating the film, shot in moody black and white to replicate the look of the Universal Frankenstein movies of the 1930s, to live theatre was not a priority. But audiences will thrill to the stage-filling laboratory of Castle Frankenstein, a showstopper in the movie, where The Monster is born in a blaze of electricity as the reluctant Frederick finally accepts his birthright (an earlier number, “Join the Family Business,” is a comic nightmare dominated by the emergence of an outsized Monster puppet, from Michael Curry Design). “The practical problem was the working table,” Wagner says. “There are different setups for it,” as The Monster is raised to the roof. “The first one is unused. The second one, which has to take two people up into the flys, has complicated mechanics and is rigged with numerous special effects. The last one is actually two tables, for the final brain transference between The Monster and the doctor. With all else that goes on, the complexity of the tables may go unnoticed.”

The sets and lighting in the two laboratory scenes are topped off by SFX designer and concert maestro Marc Brickman, in his stage-struck Broadway debut. “He was extraordinarily helpful,” Wagner notes. “It was really a matter of putting the icing on top of the cake that was already there,” says Brickman, who previsualized his sequences in Maya 8.5. “There are lightning volts from kVA generators going off in the laboratory window, and on the tabletops and what we call the ‘yarmulke’ helmets that the doctor and The Monster are wearing for the brain transference. It's kind of dangerous, in a way; the bolts will hit the first place they can go, so you had to ‘train’ them, and though I proposed hitting The Monster (wearing a chain mail blanket), that was seen as going too far,” he laughs. “I used a combination of Color Kinetics iColor Cove LED fixtures and crackle neon from New York's Kenny Greenberg in the insulators on the stage-right towers. I also contributed a pyro flash, from Chicago's Strictly FX, for the lightbulbs that explode in the ‘Ritz’ number. Hudson Scenic really took over the reins to get it together.”

Wagner's biggest tip of the hat goes to technical supervisor Neil Mazzella, who brought Brickman onto the project. “Neil and Hudson Scenic are why the show got on,” Wagner laughs. “If you have a problem, he says, ‘Oh, good, a problem.’ His engineering staff is just terrific.”

Asked for his favorite set piece, Wagner replies, “the cart” — a surprising answer, given the over-the-top-ness of so much of the show. But it turned out to be a tricky design challenge, “one far from what Stro had envisioned,” he says. The cart, in which Fredrick and Inga enjoy their “Roll in the Hay” as Igor drives them to the castle, is guided technically by underlying mechanics as the actors sing and dance. The initial thinking was that the cart would be motionless as a traveling curtain unfurled endlessly behind them, but this proved too cumbersome and expensive. So, for the first time in his career, LD Peter Kaczorowski designed his own projections, on a Green Hippo Hippotizer, of a deepening forest into which the characters seem to be heading in an almost 3D effect.

“From that concrete idea of the curtain, we went to a black void with a cart in the middle, and it was left to me to make motion or a roadway, whatever,” he laughs. “I'm not a control freak, but it seemed easier if I handled projections with my department. We had engaged an animation designer, Josh Frankel, for a single effect, the silhouette of a hanging body. I talked with him about making a facsimile of the old curtain that, instead of moving from left to right, would move toward the audience. We knew we would be projecting onto a dark blue velour surface, so we allowed for that, not much color obviously, but this silhouette black-and-white version of traveling to the castle does recall the movie and doesn't overwhelm the performers. The picture from the forest movie, which fills the stage, irises out down to the full moon in the sky under which much of the show takes place, and you're then outside in the castle courtyard for the next scene.”

The production carries the most moving lights Kaczorowski has ever used — 116, mostly Martin, which he used extensively on The Producers, and a couple of Clay Paky spots — plus “bright, strong, compact” Speedotron photo strobe units combined with Diversitronics strobes for the intense lightning and strobing effects employed, and gear that includes Wildfire blacklight and TPR fiber optics. Show Control is via an ETC Obsession II console that remotely triggers, via MIDI show control, an ETC EOS for moving lights and an MA Lighting grandMA light for projections. “We're 35' away from the stage, and it was clear six moving lights on a bar weren't going to be enough,” says Kaczorowski. “I was afraid it might be impersonal looking, but we use every single one of them, and they are on every show. Josh Weitzman, our programmer, laid it out in a way that made sense; there are only four trusses for the moving lights, which is where the show happens.”

The lights bring out the richness of Long's 300 costumes (before swings and understudies), which come closest to capturing the ambiance of their source but are more his own humorous conjuring of a 1930s Transylvania, as the movie took place in Bavaria. “That Transylvanian ‘look’ was a challenge; I decided it had to be National Geographic with a twist. We really detailed them to look authentic, hand-embroidered and hand-embellished, with feathers and the like. But when they twirl in the ‘Transylvania Mania’ number, you can see their panties and garter belts, as if they were watching Jean Harlow movies just like in America.” His details are literally in the fine print of the show: “I drew Albert Einstein's equations and diagrams of the brain and spinal cord that are mentioned in the lyrics, all over the lab coats. They're mad scientists, so of course, they'd draw all over their coats, which I know for a fact,” he kids.

The Monster was another adaptation. As Universal has copyrighted elements of Boris Karloff's famous makeup from 1931, Long worked around them, with the assistance of makeup designer Angelina Avallone and prosthetics designer John Dods. “We put our bolts in his hands and not on his neck, like in the movies,” he says. “He's wearing a green-net bodysuit, something I stood on Susan Hilferty's shoulders for and learned from Wicked. It has holes for the ears but covers the whole head and under the chin and has cut-off fingers for his fingertips. We attach the zipper neck, which is an actual zipper, to that. He wears a latex bald pate, built up with ridges and stitches, over all that. From his eyebrows on down, it's all Shuler, with makeup, and shoulder and chest padding, and 4" Catherine boots with ankle braces under them for the dances. The dances were the biggest fear, which Parsons-Meares and their dance fabrication helped us with.” Long adds that Mullally adores her three “Bride of Frankenstein” wigs, the work of Paul Huntley.

Besides ensuring that each instrument in the largest orchestra currently on Broadway be clearly heard (“our music director, Patrick Brady, arranger Glen Kelly, and orchestrator Doug Besterman are fantastic”), Deans was tasked with audio effects. Many of the show's fully enveloping sounds, like the knocks on the castle door or Inga's squishy disposal of a brain as the experiments begin, were developed with the actors, who seized the potential for comical audio. “In certain scenes, the actors are doing things on stage that obviously require sound, like turning the generators on in the laboratory. But two-thirds of them we came up with in rehearsal, and I kept right on going with them through previews until they got laughs,” he explains. “I have a system where, if you say a sound, as fast as I can type it, I can play that sound back for you. I have a huge, huge library of sounds. As they were playing around on stage, being silly, I fired sounds at them, and we'd go further and further, developing things. Shuler, Roger, and Christopher sat with me, and I played sounds for them off my little speakers or via the PA. I couldn't just build something that was alien to them; if they helped build the effects, it becomes part of their character and of their performance. When Inga throws that old brain away, it's three cues — the trashcan opening, the wet, sloppy brain going in and landing on the bottom, and the can closing. That little spot, which audiences may take for natural sound, is a collaboration between Sutton and myself, triggered by John Sibley, my backstage, RF and Foley person, and Simon Matthews, my FOH person.”

Asked what equipment helped him punch up his portion of the design, Dean replies, “The Meyer Sound LCS Series Console is the short answer because I never have to say, ‘No, I can't do that!’ LCS being able to put any sound into any speaker at any level at any time is a key element. The Wild Tracks Hard Disk Playback makes it possible to pull sounds on and off a hard drive very quickly, because as soon as you have a sound that everybody likes, being able to slot it in is important. My assistant and programmer, Brian Hsieh, and Simon made it easy for me to make an effect and then turn it over to them to get it to the stage as fast as they could.”

Deans in essence “joined the family business” with this show, but he had worked with his collaborators before. The unity and camaraderie helped get a monster mash of a musical off the ground, which Long says is the spark that brought Young Frankenstein to life. “I've worked with all these guys, including Jonathan, so many times,” he says. “The shorthand and the trust and the respect are the great things about having longtime collaborators. You just know you can sidle up to them and say, ‘Ok, can you help me with this?’ when you may not want the producer or director to know. It's — that word again — a family.”

The author, who blogs at Between Productions, (www.robertcashill.blogspot.com), is the envy of his theatre friends for having seen a preview of the legendary non-musical Frankenstein that opened and closed on January 4, 1981, at the Palace Theatre.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN GEAR LIST

Control And Dimming

1 ETC Eos

1 ETC Obsession II

1 MA Lighting grandMA light

7 ETC Sensor Dimmer Rack 96 × 2.4kW

1 NSI Dimmer Pack 4 × 2.4kW

13 City Theatrical Wireless Dimmer

4 City Theatrical Wireless Personal Dimmer

3 City Theatrical Wireless 512 Channel Transmitter

7 City Theatrical Wireless 512 Channel Receiver

4 City Theatrical Wireless DMX Receiver

12 City Theatrical Candle Board

Conventional Instruments

21 ETC Source Four 5° 750W — Double Clutch

91 ETC Source Four 10° 750W — Double Clutch

28 ETC Source Four 14° 750W — Double Clutch

66 ETC Source Four 19° 750W

51 ETC Source Four 26° 750W

39 ETC Source Four 36° 750W

4 ETC Source Four 36° w/ Diversitronics ESM-DMX-S4 Strobe Module

1 ETC Source Four 50° 750W

6 ETC Source Four 90° 750W

4 ETC Source Four PAR 750W VNSP

30 ETC Source Four PAR 750W NSP

14 ETC Source Four PAR 750W MFL

36 ETC Source Four PAR 750W WFL

2 Altman PAR64 1kW NSP

14 LTM 400W Pepper

4 Arri JR 650 Fresnel 650W

4 Arri JR 1000 Fresnel 1kW

4 Arri JR 2000 Fresnel 2kW

1 MR16 Birdies 75W EZZ (Spot)

25 MR16 Birdies 75W EYC (Flood)

2 GAM 150W Stickup

14 L&E Mini-10 300W Work Light

18 ETC Source Four PAR 300W MFL - FOH Work Light/Run Light

6 L&E 6'-3" 3 Circuit, 30 lamp MR16 Striplight 75W EZZ (Spot)

29 L&E 6'-3" 3 Circuit, 30 lamp MR16 Striplight 75W EYC (Flood)

3 Lycian 1293 3kW HMI Long Throw Followspots

110 Wybron Coloram 7.5" Color Scroller

66 Wybron Coloram 4" Color Scroller

4 Wybron Coloram 10" Color Scroller

Automated Lights

84 Martin MAC 2000 Performance

18 Martin MAC 2000 Wash

12 Martin MAC 2000 Profile

2 Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1200 SV Spot

Video

2 Green Hippo Hippotizer media server

2 Digital Projection DLP 12,000 DSX 12kW lumen projectors

Effects

20 GAM SX4 FX Film Loop

4 Wildfire LT-404-SF 400W UV Blacklight w/Eclipse Douser

6 Diversitronics SCM-56Q-DMX Strobe Cannon

8 Diversitronics SS-15 15 Joule Superstar Strobe

26 Speedotron Black Line 202VF 2.4kW Strobes w/11.5" Reflector

6 TPR-FI-150-SC Fiber Optic Illuminator

Atmospheric Effects

3 Le Maitre LSG PFI-9D System with Power Fog Industrial 9D

1 Look Solutions Viper NT Fog Machine

9 Look Solutions Tiny Fogger

2 MDG Atmospheres Haze Machine

1 Rosco Delta 3000 Fog Machine

6 Bowen Variable Speed Fan

Sound

LCS CueConsole System

2 Meyer Wild Tracks Hard Disk Playback

1 Meyer Constellation Electroacoustic Architecture System

5 Meyer Galileo Loudspeaker Management System

10 Meyer M'elodie UltraCompact Curvilinear Array Loudspeaker - Center Clusters

24 Meyer M'elodie Loudspeaker Arrays - L/R Lower and Upper

18 Meyer M1-D UltraCompact Curvilinear Array Loudspeaker - Front Fills & Stage Effects

4 Meyer 600HP Compact Subwoofer

30 Sennheiser SK-5212 UHF Bodypack Transmitter

15 Sennheiser EM 3532 2-Channel RF Wireless Receiver

30 DPA 4061-FM Miniature Omnidirectional Microphone

9 Apple Computers

6 Apple Cinema Monitors

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN CREDIT LIST

Design Team

Set Designer: Robin Wagner

Costume Designer: William Ivey Long

Lighting Designer: Peter Kaczorowski

Sound Designer: Jonathan Deans

SFX Designer: Marc Brickman

Vendors

Scenery, Special Effects and Automation: Hudson Scenic Studios

Additional Scenery and Automation: Showmotion, Inc.

Additional Scenery: Showman Fabricators

Painted Drops: Scenic Art Studios

Lighting Equipment: PRG Lighting

Video Equipment: Scharff Weisberg

Sound Equipment: PRG Audio

Costumes: Carelli Costumes, Inc.; David Quinn, EuroCo Costumes, Inc.; Jennifer Love Costumes, Inc.; John David Ridge, Inc.; Parsons-Meares, Ltd.; Scarfati Tailoring, Inc.; Tricorne, Inc.

Scenic Staff

Associate Set Designer: David Peterson

Assistant Set Designers: Atkin Pace, Thomas Peter Sarr, Robert F. Wolin

Lighting Staff

Associate Lighting Designer: John Viesta

Assistant Lighting Designers: Joel Silver, Keri Thibodeau, Chris Reay

Moving Lights Programmer: Josh Weitzman

GrandMA/Hippotizer Programmer: Thomas Hague

Production Electrician: Rich Mortell

Head Electrician: Brian Dawson

Head Spot: Whitey Ford

ML Tech/Deck electrician: Tom Galinski

Animation designer: Josh Frankel

Sound Staff

Assistant Sound Designer/Programmer: Brian Hsieh

Production Sound Engineer: Simon Matthews

Assistant Sound Engineer: John Sibley

Advance Sound Engineer: David Dignazio

House Head and RF: John Gibson

Costume Staff

Associate Costume Designer: Scott Traugott

Assistant to William Ivey Long: Donald Sanders

Assistant Costume Designer: Robert Martin