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Monster Chat with 'Young Frankenstein's' Chris Fitzgerald


Mel Brooks' latest mega-Broadway musical, Young Frankenstein, is gearing up for an out-of-town production at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, running from August 7th through September 1st, before heading to Broadway's Hilton Theatre, with an opening night scheduled for November 8th, 2007.  Previews begin October 11th.

Starring in Young Frankenstein are Roger Bart (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein), Megan Mullally (Elizabeth), Sutton Foster (Inga), Shuler Hensley (The Monster), Andrea Martin (Frau Blucher), Fred Applegate (Kemp) and Christopher Fitzgerald (Igor).

"Based on the Oscar-nominated smash-hit 1974 film, Young Frankenstein is the wickedly inspired re-imaging of the Mary Shelley classic from the comic genius of Mel Brooks," state press notes.  "When Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, an esteemed New York brain surgeon and professor, inherits a castle and laboratory in Transylvania from his grandfather, deranged genius Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein, he faces a dilemma.  Does he continue to run from his family's tortured past or does he stay in Transylvania to carry on his grandfather's mad experiments reanimating the dead, and, in the process, fall in love with his sexy lab assistant Inga?"

Sitting at a local Seattle coffee shop, Christopher Fitzgerald, along with his newborn baby, talked with BroadwayWorld's James Sims about his vaudeville like beginnings, leading to a role in the original Broadway cast of Wicked, and now as Igor in Young Frankenstein.

As you are in Seattle, for the Young Frankenstein out-of-town run, it seems only fitting that you are in a coffee shop.

There is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks.  It's one of those things where the universe is coming to an end.  You walk out of a Starbucks and there is another Starbucks.  Only in Seattle.

So you and your wife, actress Jessica Stone, have welcomed someone new into your family.

I have a newborn baby actually attached to my chest right now.  The baby is literally 17 days old.  It's quite an experience, along with opening a giant new show.  A lot of big new things are happening in my life.  I think it has put some stuff into perspective, and I think I am a little less neurotic because of this little peanut.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Young Frankenstein.  What have you been experiencing as you prepare to open on Broadway, by way of Seattle?

Well, getting here, literally people have been talking at the coffee shop and asking questions, and I will say, I am only here for six weeks.  And people in Seattle seem to be really excited about it.  People have such a great relationship, serious personal relationship, with the movie.  Everyone has a favorite line and character.  It's been really fun.

Do any concerns over movie fans comparing your performance to Marty Feldman's portrayal creep up along the way?

As we have been working on it, it is just such a new thing.  I feel like everyone in the cast is doing a little nod to what has come before, and then taken that and spun it into a new thing.  They are such different mediums, musical theatre versus film.  I am only in the moment, and haven't thought about that once.

Growing up, were you a fan of the Mel Brooks film?

Totally, yes.  It is kind of one of my first memories, when I was a little peanut myself.  Seeing that moment when… (sings "Putting on the Ritz").  That moment is a memory for me as my first actual gut laugh.  I just remember thinking that was hilarious, and I was a complete and devoted fan to that movie ever since.

Talk about the process you went through to snag the role of Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's "devoted" servant.

I auditioned, and they were still figuring out what they wanted to do, with the lead Frankenstein character.  I auditioned, and had a couple good ones, and it kind of worked out.  It was a kind of magical lucky break.  I did this show, Stairway to Paradise, in the mix of it all, and I think that was a really fun showcase of my vaudeville type stuff.  And this character is very Jimmy Durante, with a vaudeville kind of similar sensibility to that world.

How would you describe your character in the musical?

Igor is certainly very clown like, Shakespearean clown like.  Kind of comments on the action, and has a lot of very bizarre non sequiturs, with a kind of higher status than anyone else in the show.  Or believes he does.  All of that stuff, that was all my background growing up, a lot of vaudeville stuff traveling around New England doing those types of shows.  Igor is a devoted servant who loves to serve, although maybe isn't very good at it.  He does it in his own kind of personal way.  And he is a song and dance man.

You came on board Wicked after it's San Francisco out-of-town production.  What has it been like to craft a role in this big blockbuster from the start?

It's been fun to have a hand in.  This process has been one of the best I have ever experienced as far as collaboration and in regards to teamwork.  Everyone has such a stake in making the show great, and there is such a freedom in the room to kind of explore and try stuff.  And that has been a real joy and sincere fun thing to do.  And so to be there from the beginning of this process has been really fun because it has been an open door to ideas.  Everyone is kind of on the same page, comedic and story wise.  And that has been a total blast and unique experience.

Have you had a chance to work with Mel Brooks a lot throughout the process?

He has been there a lot, almost every day.  He is totally into exploring and loves funny.  If you bring up an idea and it's funny, he will go with it, and if not, he will tell you its not.  And then he will give you something that actually is funny.  As far as writing, he is very open to ideas, and that is what has been fun about being in the room.

Now, your character, Igor, had a rather hilarious running gag in the film, with mysteriously moving hump on his back.  Has that carried over into the musical adaptation?

I have been working with a hump, and her name is Gladys.  She is the right one, and Gertrude is the left (laughing).  No, I don't know.  But I have several different humps.  Three humps, but I don't want to give anything away.  There is a lot of hump work.  The first day, these crazy costume geniuses said they wanted to fit me for my rehearsal hump.  They had like a crazy perfectly made rehearsal hump with a harness that all fit on me.  And now I have a hump in my front (newborn baby).

You have had the opportunity to work on varying degrees of theatre, with something as enormous as Wicked, to a scaled down Stairway to Paradise and rather intimate Gutenberg! The Musical!  As a performer, do you approach such projects differently?

I think maybe initially, my thought process would be to do that, but I am serious when I say, Gutenberg was really just the writers (Scott Brown, Anthony King) and my friend Jeremy (Shamos) and the director (Alex Timbers).  And then arriving for this rehearsal, it is on a different plane.  But, it is a very similar experience, just kind of putting this together and throwing out ideas.  Everyone's contribution really makes it great.  And I think that is what happened with The Producers as well.  They really welcomed contributions from all, and then they filter it down.  I had never worked with these folks before, so you never know what kind of director and writer you are going to work with.  Whether they have such a clear vision that you need to fit into their whole scheme, or its like you can all discover it together, which is what this process has been like.

Do you get an opportunity to sing any amusing songs in the show?

There is definitely some fun stuff.  I have a very fun number when I first meet Dr. Frankenstein, kind of like an old vaudeville song.

Have you had an opportunity to see or work with any of the sets?

I haven't seen it yet, but I heard yesterday that is was mind blowing.  I have seen the back wall of it, and it looks massive.  It makes Wicked look like Gutenberg! The Musical!  It's crazy and has really cool ideas.  Really cool visual ideas, and the atmosphere in the movie was so integral to its success, and that is what will really make this show work.  It will really paint this picture of medieval crazy science, with electric lightning.

Has there been any talk about the $400 plus ticket prices for Young Frankenstein?

A couple people have talked about it a little bit, and I don't really think that much about it.  Although, I do know that not all of the tickets are priced that high.  I just hope that all sorts of different people come out and see it, although people with a lot of money will also love it (laughs).

You cannot exclude the rich folks.

No, they really need their musical comedy.

You had a short stint on serial television with "Twins" on the WB.  What was that experience like?

There were similar aspects to theatre, because it was a sitcom with a live audience on Thursday nights, when we would shoot it.  I really enjoyed that aspect of it.  When there is funny stuff, it's great because it is always new.  There was a similar aspect to it, but it was also a bit different.

Finally, how would you sum up Young Frankenstein for those who might be on the fence about seeing it?

There are different people you are appealing to.  I think it is a really cool story about a guy who is fighting against the crazy legacy of his family and kind of finds himself.  The thing I loved about the movie is it was spoofing horror movies, but at its core, it still actually is a story.  You can get wrapped up in it.  This show has a moving aspect to it, with really fun stuff and great creative numbers.  There is a really interesting story with really crazy characters that are fully defined.

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Photos - (1) Christopher Fitzgerald. (2) Christopher Fitzgerald, Geoofrey Soffer and Jessica Stone. (3) clockwise from top is Fred Applegate, Christopher Fitzgerald, Megan Mullally, Mel Brooks and Andrea Martin by by Erin Baiano/Paul Kolnik Studio. (4) "Gutenberg! The Musical!" with Christopher Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos by James Ambler.

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James Sims is the Senior Editor at Beyond his duties on this website, James also contributes as a featured blogger for the Huffington Post. (read more...)