by Don Church and Tony Schillaci
If you missed the limited run of “Young Frankenstein,” the musical, at the Bushnell, it’s high time to check out www.bushnell.org for upcoming shows, including the popular “Broadway Series.”
“Young Frankenstein” was a Halloween treat if there ever was one!
Having seen the original 1930’s Frankenstein movies, and later “Young Frankenstein,” Mel Brooks’ hit spoof of these classics, was a great introduction for us to enjoy this zany stage version. And what a belly-laugh-filled musical comedy it is!
Brooks has blended classic humor from old-time burlesque, vaudeville, early Broadway and Hollywood musicals, and his own rib-tickling Jewish shtick to come up with a madcap spoof on Mary Shelley’s monster and his creator.
The show closely follows Mel’s 1974 black and white film, and the anticipation of certain scenes, including the hilarious song and dance “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” Whether or not you’ve seen the film, it’s guaranteed to have you rolling in the aisle.
The Bushnell always books A-list national tour companies. Each performer is a member of Actors Equity Association, which is the gold standard for theater professionals.
Roger Bart, of TV (“Desperate Housewives”) and Broadway fame, as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of the original monster-maker, inherits the castle in Transylvania Heights, and needs to leave New York and his fiancée, Elizabeth, behind. Bart shows he’s got the talent and skill to easily headline a major production.
In saying goodbye to the young Dr. Frankenstein, the gorgeous and immensely talented Beth Curry as Elizabeth sings “Please Don’t Touch Me,” an homage to all those princesses who want the security of marriage without the dreaded intimacy that goes with it! Beth is absolutely destined for top stardom.
The young Frankenstein next meets Igor, a maniacal hunchback superbly played by Cory English – a master comedic actor/singer/dancer. The doctor and his deformed servant do a bouncy song-and-dance number “Together Again,” followed by an hysterically funny song by the newly introduced Inga, played by the stunningly beautiful and gifted Anne Horak. She’s at her show-stopping best with the clever double-entendre song, “Roll In The Hay,” complete with dancing horses and, of course, a roll in the hay.
Throughout, the sexual innuendo is lunatic, zesty, and tends to grow and get bigger! References of a naughty nature just add to the general merriment and madness.
Next we meet Frau Blucher, played with a scene-stealing deadpan by Joanna Glushak. One of her many wonderful moments is a confession of her affair with Dr. Frankenstein, Sr. in the song “He Vas My Boyfriend.” Vunderbar!
Ensemble numbers, such as the first act closing, “Transylvania Mania.” are pure Brooks. (He wrote the music and lyrics). Enthusiastic and energetic, the ensemble consists of gorgeous, leggy showgirls and attractive and athletic male dancers who perform with fluidity and wild abandon.
In the second act, Brad Oscar, as a blind hermit, sings “Please Send Me Someone” not knowing the someone he is longing for will be the Monster (Shuler Hensley from the original Broadway cast). Oscar also doubles as a Prussianesque Inspector Kemp throughout the show. Two tour-de- force performances from a fine comedic actor.
When the show-stopping Irving Berlin number, the aforementioned “Puttin’ On The Ritz” finally arrives, it’s the hands-down standout all-tapping, all-singing, all-fun theatrical example of what justifies all the fuss about Roger Bart and Shuler Hensley.
These two luminous stars are joined again for a big finish to “Puttin’ On The Ritz” by the brilliant ensemble in one of those moments that makes great musical theater a joy forever.
The book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan is more baggy-pants comedy, more bawdy humor than the movie, yet remains true to the ditzy spirit of the film.
Susan Stroman, the brilliant choreographer, also directed this production. The magnificent costumes of William Ivey Long are as gorgeous as those of the Golden Age of Broadway and the movies. The fabrics, colors and styles that perfectly adorn Ms. Curry and Ms. Horak compliment the show’s time and place.
The scenery by Robin Wagner, lighting by Peter Kacsorowski, and sound byJonathan Deans are all electrifying…literally! Lightning storms, soaring castle interiors, frightening laboratory pyrotechnics, thunder, smoke, fog, and thoroughly delightful shadow dancing contribute to the scale and cleverness of the production.
Conductor and musical director Bob Billig works the orchestrations of Doug Besterman with the musicians in the pit to produce beautiful music throughout.