Like a lot of young men who went to college less than ten years ago, I am a fan of Mel Brooks. I can quote Spaceballs and Blazing Saddles for hours. I think The Producers is an excellent musical, and I even love the film version of it that no one cared much for. I even have High Anxiety on my Netflix queue right now. But a real favorite of mine, and many others, is Young Frankenstein.
Young Frankenstein is a classic, and if you disagree please go watch it. If you still disagree, stop reading this. The musical adaptation is still relatively new, but the story remains the same. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“Franhkensteen”, as he likes to pronounce it) is summoned to Transylvania to inherit his grandfather’s castle, and in doing so gets sucked into continuing some of the horrific experiments his legacy is known for.
What’s challenging about doing the work of Mel Brooks is that there can be a lot happening: physical stuff, clever word play, subtle reactions. Some jokes, like a giant green monster singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, are easy to pull off (that’ll always be funny). Others, however, can get lost in the action or just have trouble landing. At the top of the show that was the case, the scenes introducing Frederick (Trey Compton) and fiancée Elizabeth (Andrea Weinzierl) didn’t garner a whole lot of chuckles. But by the time we arrived at the castle and the monster building started to happen, things began to pick up steam.Quinn Patrick Shannon gets the wonderful role of hunchback assistant Igor, and milks the laughs out of all the funny lines he gets. Igor is just a beautiful weirdo of a person, and Shannon captures the crazy and just has fun with it. Lara Hayhurt plays Inga, Frederick’s foreign blonde bombshell assistant (a Mel Brooks stock character if ever there was one). Ms. Hayhurt has a knack for perky, sexual comedy and has a powerful set of pipes she gets to show off in her innuendo-filled number “Roll in the Hay”. Tammy Townsend rounds out the castle crowd as Frau Blucher (*horse neigh), the housekeeper. Her thick accent, great comic timing, and general presence add a lot to the scenes and she nails her Transylvanian ballad “He Vas my Boyfriend”.
The songs and dances are fun, and Tim Hartman as the monster is hilarious in “Putting on the Ritz”, the most memorable scene from the film. The ensemble is full of good singers and dancers, but the sheer number of them sometimes proved problematic. I don’t know if all thirty members ever appeared in the same number at once, but many songs felt a bit crowded. Smaller moments, like a blind hermit (Brady Patsy) singing about asking god to “Send Him Someone” tended to land a bit better.The sets were simple and effective, aided by a nice dramatic lightning flash when appropriate. A few tech issues riddled throughout the night, most of which were covered nicely by cast or crew. Near the end of act one a cue of the monster screaming was not played and when the Inspector asks, “what was that?” Compton as Freddy quipped “What was what? I actually didn’t hear anything.” Little moments and improvisations like that helped the show along, although not much could be done when Freddy almost lost his wig at the end of the show. Still, they trucked through.
I think fans of Young Frankenstein will enjoy this production: it’s got the characters you love, the classic moments (“put…the candle…BACK), and a cast that more or less has fun with it. It gets weighed down a bit with crowd scenes and a few punch lines that get lost in space, but it’s made up for with some solid performances and good script. Like the Monster itself, the show isn’t perfect, but it can be quite charming.
Presented by Pittsburgh Musical Theatre @ Byham Theater
Directed by Colleen Petrucci
Musical Direction by Robert Neumeyer, Choreography by Lisa Elliott
Designed by Todd Nonn (scenery/lighting), Kim Brown (costumes), Greg Brooks (sound), Rockhan Photography (photos)
Young Frankenstein runs weekends through March 15. Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: Thursday, March 5, 2015