Review: ‘Young Frankenstein’ at Silhouette Stages

Silhouette Stages has a remarkable production of Young Frankenstein that is so dynamic, audience members kept checking the program to make sure they weren’t teleported back to 2008 when the original musical version debuted on the stage of the Hilton Theater (now Lyric) on New York’s West 43rd Street.

Audience members loudly wondered why the show wasn’t sold out – because it should be packed to the rafters with an SRO crowd.

It’s beyond good – Silhouette’s amazing, incredibly professional production of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein is over-the-top and should be on everyone’s ‘must-see’ list.

L to R: Jean Berard (Frau Blücher), Ashley Gerhardt (Elizabeth), and Matt Wetzel (Igor). Photo by Mort Shuman.

L to R: Jeremy Goldman, Lindsey Landry, and Matt Wetzel. Photo by Matt Shuman.

The Frankenstein monster wasn’t the only one in stitches throughout the show.

There was so much laughing and joyous shrieks from the audience it seemed to fuel the hysterical zaniness of the cast onto greater heights of comedy.

The show, based on the classic 1974 hit, the black and white film Young Frankenstein, has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks, original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, and is winningly directed and choreographed for Silhouette by Tommy Malek. The musical direction is by Nathan C. Scavilla. Staged Managed by Donna Hawke, this musical also boasts Tina Marie DeSimone as tap choreographer, set and sound design by Alex Porter, and Costume Designer/Coordinator Caroline Jurney – and there were a lot of costumes and lightning fast changes!

 What was interesting about the show’s mostly minimalist sets was the speed with which they moved on and offstage. Most pieces were built to do double – or triple – duty merely by being turned around or placed at a different angle onstage. Even the staircase set into the back wall of Dr. Frankerstein’s laboratory in the basement of the castle would be seemingly whisked away between scenes. And, nearly every scene had an aura of murkiness.

The hayride wagon was typical as it translated minimalism into comedy. The wagon didn’t move, so the actors suggested movement by jiggling around in the wagon. The horses, likewise, were stationery but moved their heads and feet as if they were pulling the wagon.

Every character had several costume changes. Igor, though, never changed from his black bodysuit, hooded head and cape, and, poking fun at the assistant in the 1931 Frankenstein movie, the hump on his back regularly shifted from side to side.

The Monster’s gait and persona were enhanced by the 4-inch high platform lace up boots and bulky clothing. Inga’s “Heidi” outfit, complete with a laced up bustier and short skirt, propped up with petticoats and lacy, cropped pantaloons amplified the mountain girl cliché as it emphasized her curvy attributes.

The ensemble members seemed to sport a new outfit in each scene, mostly every day clothes with a few quirky touches.

The show perfectly captures the essence of what made Mel Brooks’ black-and-white movie classic so wonderful – and so wildly inappropriate for young children.

Before the actually show begins at Silhouette, grainy black-and-white scenes from old movies flashed by on a screen at the rear of the stage, including Claudette Colbert teaching Clark Gable how to hitchhike (by raising her skirt hemline) in It Happened One Night, to a trailer for the original Frankenstein movie starring Boris Karloff. It then rolled into all the credits for the Silhouette show. The only thing missing was popcorn.

As the show opens in a 1934 lab in New York City, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Jeremy Goldman) an illustrious brain researcher and surgeon based in New York City, is leading a class in brain reaction studies – “(There is Nothing Like) The Brain.” The audience quickly senses Frankenstein inherited his namesake’s darker, more macabre talents when he demonstrates the effectiveness of a neck clamp on a live subject. The reactions of the “man on the gurney” are priceless.

Moments later Frankenstein learns from a weird Western Telegram delivery boy that his legendary grandfather Victor von Frankenstein (played later by Julie Press) has died at his Transylvania castle and left his entire estate to his grandson. The actor hints at studying the late Gene Wilder’s take on the character, but quickly makes it his own.

Goldman also possesses a strong, beautiful, show stopping voice – as do the thespians portraying Elizabeth (Ashley Gerhardt),  Inga (Lindsey Landry),  Igor (Matt Wetzel), Frau Blücher (Jean Berard), and the Monster (Christopher Kabara).

The male and female ensembles (Adam, Abruzzo, Derek Anderson, Darlene Harris, JilliAnne McCarty, Kristin Miller, Thomas Ogar, Julie Press, Jen Retterer, Matthew Sorak, and Anthony Wisdom) also have dynamic voices in a cappella and music-backed scenes, and perform some tightly-paced Ziegfeld Folly and Rockette inspired dances throughout the show with the leads.

The music, by the way, is not live, but it is a joy to watch the actors perform as if it is.

Meanwhile, the villages in Transylvania Heights have already celebrated the elder Frankenstein’s demise by singing “The Happiest Town in Town.”

Part of the fun costuming throughout the show, Inspector Hans Kemp (Michael M. Crook) incongruously sports a monocle over his eye patch.

In one of the show’s many inventive scene changes on wheels, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein’s lab switches to a Hudson River pier where he bids farewell to his pampered Park Avenue socialite girlfriend Elizabeth (Ashley Gerhardt). Elizabeth makes it clear in “Please, Don’t Touch Me” that touching, hugging, hand-holding or, even, kissing is not allowed as it will mess up her coif, her makeup, her nail polish (“It takes months to dry!”) or her lipstick. Though they are engaged, they’ve never been, ahem, intimate and the good doctor is still a virgin.

Lindsey Landry (Inga) and Jeremy Goldman (Frederick Frankenstein). Photo by Mort Shuman.

Lindsey Landry (Inga) and Jeremy Goldman (Frederick Frankenstein). Photo by Mort Shuman.

Upon his arrival in Transylvania, the mood changes when he meets Igor, pronounced Eye-Gore, (Matt Wetzel)  and his new, shapely, long and limber limbed lab assistant Inga (Lindsey Landry). In a horse-drawn hay wagon, Dr. Frankenstein learns about Inga’s many charms in “Roll in the Hay.”

(And, let’s not overlook Igor – Wetzel brings the Marty Feldman character to life with his wide eyed antics and crazy dance moves.)

The horses were part of the fun – and had the audience neighing with laughter.

At the castle, the chilly Frau Blücher (Jean Berard) quickly makes it clear what her relationship was with the late Victor von Frankenstein. Oy Vey! He did THAT with that iceberg? And Berard steals the show with her outrageous rendition of “He Vas My Boyfriend.”

L to R) Matt Wetzel (Igor), Lindsey Landry (Igna), Jeremy Goldman (Frederick Frankenstein), and Gene Berard (Frau Blücher). Photo by Mort Shuman.

L to R) Matt Wetzel (Igor), Lindsey Landry (Igna), Jeremy Goldman (Frederick Frankenstein), and Jean Berard (Frau Blücher). Photo by Mort Shuman.

Though the plot is as well-known as any Shakespearean play, we’ll not divulge all the fun here, except to mention “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is the bomb and the Monster (Christopher Kabara) brings a human touch to the play, especially in his longing desire for friendship – and food – in the side-splitting scene with the Blind Hermit (Don Patterson).

This is one treat you don’t want to miss this Halloween season!

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with an intermission.

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Young Frankenstein plays through October 30, 2016 at Silhouette Stages in the Slayton House Theater of Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Columbia, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 637-5289 or purchase them online.

Note: The theater has no “theater” signage outside, nor any sidewalk sandwich boards announcing the show inside. So, look for a building marked “Slayton House.”

However, parking is plentiful and free in a large, lighted lot. Several interesting restaurants are in the same area.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1542.gif

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