BWW Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN Is Monstrous Great Fun At Toby's In Columbia
It is Press Night at Toby's Dinner Theatre, and I have my usual easy time of parking in the ample lot. I enter to greetings by friendly staff, anticipating the featured show-themed special drink, which is often a frozen slushy concoction, and today is decorated with a gummy brain. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUSICAL is packed with horrifying puns, die-laughing comedy, frightfully fabulous wigs, knock-em-dead singing and every iconic line you loved from the movie, some of which, it may interest you to know, were improvised by the original film actors.
But first, dinner. The tiered seating around the floor that's both stage and buffet area gives a good view to every guest, though it's snug, so prepare to be friendly. The buffet offers plenty of variety, and includes salad bar, shrimp cocktail and a basket of wonderful bread. I'm always a fan of the cole slaw and of Toby's signature spinach dish, Spinach Funque.
I loved Young Frankenstein and am antiquated enough that I saw it in the movie theatre when it was new, the brainchild of Gene Wilder, co-written by himself and Mel Brooks. Now, I'm not of the opinion that all beloved treasures of media need to become Broadway musicals, but the success of Les Miserables, Wicked, Ghost and Matilda, make musicalization an attractive opportunity, to such an extent that Heathers is not only possible, but viable. I'm concerned that I'll find the musical numbers irrelevant and annoying. They are neither, but instead excellently written and comically performed.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, script, music and lyrics written by Mel Brooks with an assist on the dialogue from Thomas Meehan, at Toby's is an immersive treat. The in-the-round production style, deftly managed by Director-Choreographer Mark Minnick, keeps action lively and quick paced, without feeling rushed or frenetic.
Musical Director and Orchestrator Ross Scott Rawlings does a fine job with the score. The live mini-orchestra has great timing and is amplified perfectly, rich and full without overpowering the voices of the actors. The violinist has a particularly active role in this show, so kudos to Patricia Wnek for excellent delivery. You may not notice how well Sound Designer Corey Brown has done, which is exactly the point.
In fact, the production values of all facets of this show are praiseworthy, supporting the story in all ways very smoothly and subtly, allowing the audience to focus on the drama and the actors therein.
The actors! When we first meet Igor, I am certain that actor David James will steal the show. When Inga is introduced, however, I believe Louisa Tringalli may steal the show. But when Tess Rohan as Frau Blucher delivers her rousing solo, I realize I can't decide, and it's obviously an organized heist. My avid fondness for Gene Wilder aside, I truly enjoy the remarkable presence of talented Jeffrey Shankle, who does a wonderful job portraying Frederick Frankenstein, his sturdy, earnest delivery giving credibility to his intention to have nothing whatsoever to do with his ancestors or their legacy. As the Monster, newcomer to Toby's Dinner Theatre Christopher Kabara is exactly as sweetly pathetic as he ought to be, and wins the collective heart of the audience immediately.
The atmosphere of Transylvania, the setting of most of the action, manages to infuse Toby's with an eerie, foreboding, yet still comic, feeling. Scenic and lighting designer David Hopkins manages to create a damp chilly feeling for the village, though the theatre is a perfectly comfortable environment.
I am frequently pleased with the quality, look and overall conception of costuming at Toby's, but these, based on William Ivey Long's original vision for the inaugural production of the show, are far beyond nice and well into resplendent, some, particularly the ensembles of Elizabeth, (played with great charisma by Toby's initiate Alicia Osbourne), are actually dazzling. And the wigs. Did I mention the wigs? Great wigs. Seriously excellent wigs.
If you suspect you'll want more drinks delivered during Intermission, order them before your actor/server leaves to change for the show. Servers will drop and pick up checks at Intermission, but ordering anything else isn't an option. Really, it's a bathroom break. The line for the ladies' room is intimidatingly long, but it moves briskly. Despite the many visitors, it is tidy and bright.
Act 2 of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN contains fewer gems of song and dance than Act 1, but what they lack in number, they compensate in charm and naughty humor. "Deep Love" goes exactly where you think it will, and the action swivels around to a very satisfying conclusion.
Advisement to the prudish: this show, which includes adult situations and a great deal of classic Mel Brooks raunchiness, may not be quite to your taste. For the rest of you, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a lighthearted romp of a show, a real roll in the hay, and electrifyingly witty.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUSICAL plays at Toby's through March 11th. Avoid horrified screams of disappointment- purchase tickets today!
Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.
Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia
5900 Symphony Woods Road
Columbia, MD 21044
For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.
For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.
Pictured above: Christopher Kabara as The Monster, Jeffrey Shenkle as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Louisa Tringalli as Inga and David James as Igor.
Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography