Igor & son

"Young Frankenstein" First National Touring Company-Roger Bart and Rye Mullis (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

“He’s like a little director,” says Cory English, “telling everyone what to do.” English is touring the country with the Broadway musical “Young Frankenstein” — which runs Sept 27-Oct 3 at ASU Gammage in Tempe as part of the “Broadway Across America Arizona” series.

English has two important roles — Igor and father. We started a recent conversation by talking about his son, Sammy, who has been touring with English and his wife Sara (also an actor) since he was just three months old.

I asked English, who hails from New York but now calls London home, about the pros and cons of parenting on the road. The only real downside, it seems, is that children tagging along on tour enjoy less time around other children. “Adults love listening to his stories,” muses English, “but other kids aren’t as interested.”

"Young Frankenstein" First National Touring Company-Roger Bart and Rye Mullis (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

So how do they make sure that Sammy gets as much time with peers as possible? They’re masters at seeking out kid-friendly experiences in the cities they visit. In one city Sara found a Waldorf school their son was able to attend for six weeks — giving him a sense of place and structure.

English raves about the Chicago Children’s Museum and AcroSports in San Francisco, so I hope they’ll have a chance to explore the Children’s Museum of Phoenix while they’re here. I’m convinced it’s among the nation’s best.

“He has to adapt since we’re in a different city every week,” says English of his son. “He’s not afraid to go up to people and say ‘Hi.'” English praises Sara’s cooking (recalling how much Sammy loved the Waldorf school’s cooking class) — admitting that they do tire of restaurant fare.

Happily, they’re able to find preschooler favorites like “pasta and potatoes” in any city. Still, they travel with certain essentials for on-the-road meal preparation, including a Foreman grill, hot water kettle and Thermomix (which seems to do just about everything but wash the dirty dishes).

"Young Frankenstein" First National Touring Company-Roger Bart and Cory English (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

But what of his Igor role? English replaced the original actor on Broadway in late 2008, and began performing with the touring production in September of 2009. It never gets old, he says, because the show lends itself to a sort of spontaneity that breaks the “fourth wall” between performers and audience more often than most.

You don’t have to be a big musical theater fan to enjoy “Young Frankenstein,” according to English, who says he’s delighted to be performing in one of the few new musical comedies out there. English touts the work’s vaudevillian vibe — noting that the musical is based on Mel Brooks’ 1974 movie of the same name.

English notes that unlike some other musicals, “Young Frankenstein” is popular with both women and men. “There’s a lot of inuendo,” says English, “so just be prepared.” He adds that much of it will “go right over the heads” of children less than 8 years old, while 13- to 14-year old boys “will love this humor.”

"Young Frankenstein" First National Touring Company-Roger Bart and Rye Mullis (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

English’s first love was dancing. His advice to budding actors ages 10 to 16 or so is this: “Do it as much as possible — and enjoy it.” By about 17, he says, kids need to decide whether they’re really going to pursue it — and whether their parents will actually let them.

He notes that there are plenty of theater-related careers — stage managing, writing, directing. “Don’t do it if you don’t love it,” cautions English. “If you can do anything else, do it.”

“It’s a rough business,” admits English. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices.”

“There’s no way I would go out on the road without my wife and son,” reflects English. “No amount of money would be enough.”

So what’s his advice to young people eager to venture into the world of acting? “Get to know as many walks of life as possible,” suggests English. Wait tables. Be a hospital candy striper. Travel. Do odd jobs. For some, he says, it’s helpful to take a “gap year” between high school graduation and college.

"Young Frankenstein" First National Touring Company (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Whatever your special area of interest, says English, just get out there and “be in the mix of it.” For musical theater, think NYC. For acting, think London — where you can study the classics and hone your storytelling.

I confessed to English as our conversation drew to a close that I hadn’t been all that keen on seeing “Young Frankenstein” before we chatted. He gave a hearty laugh when I shared that my I.Q. might be a bit lower than that of the average Mel Brooks fan.

Now I feel certain I’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Note: Tickets for “Young Frankenstein” at ASU Gammage start at less than $25. Click here to learn about individual and season tickets, as well as special offers and promotions. Enjoy “Mel Brooks Movie Mania” at Madcap Theaters in Tempe on Sept 23 & 24 — which includes free movie screenings plus “contests, trivia and wacky prizes.” One lucky winner will receive tickets to “Young Frankenstein” opening night. Or join the cast for afternoon tea at The Ritz Carlton, Phoenix on Sept 29. Tickets to the tea run $35 and are available by calling The Ritz Carlton, Phoenix at 602-468-0700. Event includes chance to win four tickets and an exclusive opportunity to dine with the cast. Educators will enjoy the “Young Frankenstein” StageNOTES (TM) materials from Camp Broadway, LLC — which feature information for teaching history, language arts, life skills, behavioral studies and arts.

Coming up: Preview of the Black Theatre Troupe’s 2010-2011 season, which opens with a recent Tony-award winner highly praised by Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and assistant vice president for cultural affairs at ASU.

Today’s tidbit: Paradise Valley Community College will host the Phoenix Astronomical Society by the PVCC telescope dome for a free (and open to the public) “PVCC Star Party” tonight from 6pm-10pm. Arizona Jewish Theatre Company holds auditions tonight from 7pm-9pm for their teen improv troupe. Interested teens ages 13-18 can call 602-264-0402 or e-mail gena@azjewishtheatre.org for an appointment (more details at www.azjewishtheatre.org).