Young Frankenstein turns baby boomers into Pavlov’s dogs.
For those over 40 it recalls the halcyon days of 1970s screen comedy, specifically that 20-year stretch when Mel Brooks was at his very best.
After the success of the state adaptation of Brooks’ 1967 comedy The Producers, 1974’s Young Frankenstein seemed an obvious follow. It was less complicated to stage than Blazing Saddles (with its railroads, tumbleweeds, and a TKO’d horse), and spoke to a simpler time of scientific naiveté and black and white monsters.
And, of course, it was ripe for what Brooks’ characters have always excelled at: overacting.
Broadway audiences agreed, and now Brooks’ satirical homage to James Whale’s 1931 Universal classic has made its way to Toledo Repertoire, which wraps up its Main Stage season with a feisty, take-no-prisoners production.
This isn’t rocket science, it’s comedy, and in the capable hands of director Amy Spaulding-Heuring, it’s a delightful two-plus hours of nonsense.
Many a great play has been hampered by subpar casting, but that’s hardly the case here. When New York college professor Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “SHTEEN,” he insists) learns that his grandfather Victor has died in Transylvania, he refuses to have anything to do with the creepy old man who’s infamous for his experiments reanimating corpses. Refuses, that is, until he learns that his absence means the state will claim the entire estate.
Performances of The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein continue at Toledo Repertoire at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and June 19-21, and at 2 p.m. Sunday and June 22. The theater is located at 16 10th St.. Information: 419-243-9277 or toledorep.org.
So it’s good-bye to his vacuous socialite fiancé, Elizabeth Benning (Lindsey Denhem), and off to the land of werewolves and vampires, where local villagers are aghast that another Frankenstein still lives. They’re convinced he’s going to try more of that zombie smack, and they’ve got the pitchforks and torches ready.
Frederick, of course, is too busy coping with his eccentric staff: hunchback Igor (pronounced EYE-gore), with his perpetual padded cell grin; the Germanic housekeeper Frau Blucher (Lydia Schafer), whose very name gives horses the shivers; and voluptuous lab assistant Inga (Kristin Kukic), whose best traits are in front of her ... say, chest high.
Through plot contrivances that involve a ghostly visit from his late grandfather, Frederick decides to give the old man’s work one more shot. What could go wrong?
Thanks to Igor’s mishandling of a certain brain, just about everything subsequently does, leading to the creation of a monster (Reed Reamsnyder) as homicidally stupid as he is massive.
The stage production compliments that basic movie plot with one thing more: a surplus of silly songs.
Save for Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, which here, as in the movie, is the monster’s coming out tune, Brooks wrote all the lyrics and music. They’re every bit as witty as the script: Denham’s hilarious ode to cosmetic perfection Please Don’t Touch Me, the demented dirge He Vas My Boyfriend by Victor’s mistress, Frau Blucher, and Frederick and Igor’s manic duet Together Again (for the First time).
There are softer songs, too. Inga’s lilting ballad Listen to Your Heart showcases Kukic’s ethereal voice, while Denham captures Elizabeth’s tender side with Deep Love as deftly as she handles zaniness in act one when insisting that her fiancé not touch her makeup or her skin or her hair.
Sarah Hanson’s smart set and Kevin Harrington’s unobtrusive lighting serve the production well, as does Jamie Dauel’s music direction, which never swamps the vocals. The sole detraction the night of our visit was a sound system that proved intermittently wonky.
Director Spaulding-Heuring excels in getting the best from her cast: Patrick Boyer’s eye-popping Igor, who temporarily makes us forget Marty Feldman; Trent Dorner who manages to hold his own amid the chaos as poor Frederick Frankenstein, and Schafer and Denham, the former making Frau Blucher almost empathetic, the latter stealing her every scene as a ditzy Park Avenue dame.
Young Frankenstein is anything but an easy show to mount. Yet this acting company manages to pull it off with an excess of silliness and comic élan.
Contact Mike Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.