There were plenty of laughs at The Alliance Theatre’s monstrously silly production of Mel Brooks’ 2007 musical adaptation of his hysterical and popular 1974 Black and White classic film Young Frankenstein (that’s ‘Fronkensteen’) when I visited Mountain View High School’s intimate performance space this past Saturday night. With a gag-filled book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (A 3-time Tony Award winner for his books for Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray) and music and lyrics by Brooks (Tony Award winner for his score and book with Thomas Meehan for The Producers), there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Let’s put this to rest quickly-this ain’t The Producers. But if you loved Brooks’ film of the Frankenstein clan there is lots to laugh at and with! The musical version is pretty loyal to the film and it has a lot of heart (although we don’t know where that green heart really came from!). The zingers are out in full-force, so sit back and enjoy them and inhale the ‘shtick’ because there are some jokes and one-liners that are so outrageous that you might laugh – like I did – loudly and often until your tummy hurts.
And it’s OK to groan at some of the one-liners and puns that go ‘thud’ because it’s all part of the Mel Brooks shtick. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks at his Catskill-esque best and even if you are not a member of the Chosen 12 Tribes (like me who grew up with lots of Brooksonian Yiddish humor), there’s still enough ‘gentile’ humor to make you happy. And atheists will love it too! And there’s enough adult humor to keep you abreast of what’s happening in the story.
I don’t want to give away all the simple, yet, kooky design by Set Designers Leslie Anne Ross and Maggie Swan except to say that it looked kinda 3-dimensional. And I loved that mysterious bookcase, and I was impressed how fast the set changes happened, although I thought there were too many of them.
I was also impressed by how well the special sound effects worked and the work by Sound Designer Lynn Lacy. The balance between the orchestra and the singers was efficient and although everyone wasn’t miced (which added to some of the zaniness on the stage and in the aisles) I frankly, heard as much as I needed to (I’m not a big fan of the score). But the lightning, the thunder, the growling, the stomping, the screaming – they were effective, loud, and clear.
For such a small space with little or no backstage area to make those quick ‘changes’ – everyone did a fine job not bumping into each other and causing permanent injuries that I know of. No ambulances arrived during the show. Or did I miss something?
Leslie Anne Ross provided some colorful costumes for the leads and townsfolk and her costume for the Monster was – green. That worked well as did his makeup by Alicia Coleman, MaryAnn Duff, and Denise Marois Wolf. He’s a big monster so they needed three people to handle his makeup chores. Makes sense to me. Lighting Designer Jarrett Baker – I discovered – likes the color red, and there’s a lot of red in this show, and since I like red, you did a great job Jarrett!
Josh Nixon’s choreography included some swirls and high-kicks – quite successfully in “Puttin on the Ritz” – and ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’ elsewhere – and it had my head spinnin’ because it was was perfectly Brooksonian – a mishmash of styles. Musical Director Laurelyn Morrison and her hard-working teeny tiny band: James Hotsko, David Jaynes, Michael Morrison, and Darren Saiidifar played Mel Brooks’ score well, always being careful not to drown out any of the singers.
Seriously – it was nice not having the design steal the show this time. I have seen the Broadway production and two tours come through this area and the stars of those productions were the special effects and sets, but here Director Leslie Anne Ross has several talented Fräuleins and Männer who provide scene-stealing performances and are the stars of this production.
If I could get away during the remaining performances of this production I would run again and again to watch Lori Muhlstein’s tour de force performance as the lonely and nostalgic Frau Blücher. Her outrageous ‘horseplay’ and comic timing and gestures during her performance of “He Vas My Boyfriend”were priceless and the highlight of the production for me. I was laughing so hard – along with the howling audience – that I almost choked. It was truly a masterpiece of acting, contorting, mugging, and the lost art of selling every lyric and selling a song! Truly amazing!
Cara Giambrone as the over-the-top sexless Elizabeth sang the heck out of her number “Please Don’t Touch Me,” and somehow found a much, much, much deeper meaning with the totally head-shaking “Deep Love.”
And – hay – I mean hey- Annie Ermlick proved once again that she is not only a terrific actress but she can sing and yodel up a storm and she does just that while rolling in a cart with Ian Wade who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and she appears with her real-life hubby Dave, who plays Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein (that’s Fronkensteen!) As the voluptuous and endearing Inga, it was nice to see some real-life chemistry shared on stage by the happy couple, and I can only imagine how much fun and sheer terror it must be working together in this musical monstrosity. Ms. Ermlick also delivered some beautiful singing in the second act with a lovely rendition of “Listen to Your Heart.”
John Totten was ‘riveting’ as The Inspector Hans Kemp and you have to hand it to him – he delivered a lot of laughs with his performance. And K. Clayton was out of sight as the Hermit who ladles out some of the evening’s loudest laughs. Scott Olson was terrific as The Monster – always menacing with a great pair of lungs and wonderful expressive eyes. His reactions during the Hermit scene were priceless!
Which finally leads us to the charming and good-hearted humped and endearing Mike Cash, who plays the loyal, but outrageous Groucho-Marxish Igor. It’s a funny performance filled with great comic timing and, frankly, he’s adorable in the role.
This is a really difficult musical to pull off well and when it comes to vocal prowess, few of the cast members at my performance could sing in key, but this just added to the lunacy of these characters and the book. I think Mel Brooks would have been in stitches!
OK. I will just come out and say it: I had a good time! I laughed. I rolled my eyes, and I saw some damned good performances. And I am confident that the show will get even ‘tighter’ and even funnier as the run continues. I’m sending in two spies to see it this weekend, so rehearse!
But what I enjoyed the most was watching this community of families and friends and audience members gathering in the crowded hallway after the show to congratulate and to lend a ‘high five’ to the cast members and designers and technicians who worked so hard to make me and them laugh. I’m still smiling about it four days later.
They don’t call it Community Theatre for nothin’.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Young Frankenstein plays from March 21-April 6, 2014 at The Alliance Theatre performing at Mountain View High School -5775 Spindle Court, in Centreville, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.
Monstrous Comments From The Cast of The Alliance Theatre’s ‘Young Frankenstein.’