BWW Reviews: Standing Room Only Productions' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is Frothy, Fun Entertainment
Standing Room Only Productions' current presentation of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (officially titled THE NEW Mel Brooks' MUSICAL YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) excels in the ambition department. They've chopped the cast size down to 12 and perform the show in front of a series of projected illustrated backdrops. For all of you doubters, this approach works. Without all the accoutrements of the Broadway and national tour budgets that imbued the production with spectacle, SRO's scaled back and intimate approach proves that the writing the for the musical is actually good, letting it stand on its own without expensive gimmicks and trickery.
For any comedy, but especially one penned by Mel Brooks, the key is timing. In performance, it is obvious that pacing was on the forefront of Wayne Landon's mind. The projected backdrops make for quick scene changes that keep the show zipping along. Likewise, he has coached his cast to deliver the lines with the gusto and urgency required to draw forth laughs, chuckles, grins, and smiles. The second act of the production dips a little, but this is the fault of the book. In each of the three productions I have seen of the musical, the second act drags its feet a bit as Mel Brooks crams a lot of material in to ensure that the finale works.
Starring as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Tyler Galindo delights the audience with his pleasant, brain-obsessed scholar turned raving scientist. Tyler Galindo's mad scientist shtick leaves the audience in stitches. Moreover, his clean and clear tenor voice shines brightly on numbers like "Life, Life," "Man About Town," and "Frederick's Soliloquy." He also doesn't stumble on the intricate tongue twister lyrics of "The Brain."
Both Brad Zimmerman's Igor and Michael Raabe's The Monster give the audiences everything they are looking for. Igor is zany, bumbling, and awkward. The Monster is oafish and inarticulate. Both men embrace their characters through Mel Brooks' distinctive brand of comedy and put together performances that are amusing. Brad Zimmerman delights with "Together Again for the First Time" and Michael Raabe impresses with competent tap during the much anticipated "Puttin' On The Ritz."
Additionally, the three key women in the show are played well. Susan Bray's Frau Blucher is my favorite performance of the evening, earning my heartiest laughs with her screwball line delivery and facial expressions. Singing, "He Vas My Boyfriend," she commands attention and owns the stage. Playing Elizabeth, Robin Van Zandt embodies the madcap aspects of the role. She perfectly contorts her face and vocally channels Bernadette Peters' litheness and the belt of Patti LuPone to create a whimsical diva. Her renditions of "Please Don't Touch Me," "Surprise," and "Deep Love" are all powerfully sung showstoppers. Liz Tinder's Inga is the right mix of sweet, fun, and spirited. She also sings with a beautiful soprano instrument. However, her performance came across as weak at last night's opening performance. Her yodeling wasn't as lively and zesty as I've heard previous Inga's do, and despite being the show's choreographer she appeared to have some difficulty with the tap routine in "Puttin' On The Ritz."
The weakest aspect of the production is Jan Mundroff's Inspector Kemp and ghost of Victor Frankenstein. His spoken lines can be comprehended, but when he sings it sounds as if his mouth is full of marbles. His vocalizing made many of his lyrics incomprehensible.
The technical elements of the production all work together to shoehorn this large and bold undertaking into the intimate venue. Set pieces are mostly relegated to easy to move furniture. The trick wall that spins is cleverly designed and looks great in performance. The lighting design is minimalistic, using variable colors across the upstage cyclorama to highlight mood and tone. Sound Design mixes the small band and voices well. They are put together and amplified through a speaker system. There are times where the human voices don't need amplification and the sound designer and board operator wisely let the cast belt without additional amplification.
When it comes to frothy, fun musical theatre YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN excels excellently. This cast and crew do the show right, keeping the audience rolling with laughter, their toes tapping, and their heads bobbing. Additionally, the costuming doesn't objectify the female cast members the way other productions have, making this take on the infamous comedy more family friendly. That's not to say you won't see flashes of thigh and a few heaving bosoms. They just appear with a diminished frequency when compared to other productions that I have seen.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 38 minutes with one intermission.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, produced by Standing Room Only Productions, plays Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Drive, Houston, 77007 now through October 27, 2013. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. For more information and tickets, please visit http://sro-productions.com or call (713) 300-2358.
Photos Courtesy of Standing Room Only Productions.
Tyler Galindo as Freddie & Robin Van Zandt as Elizabeth.