BWW Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN: THE MUSICAL at Walnut Street Theatre
The Walnut Street Theatre opens its 211th season (no typo) with an uproarious YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. This venerable theatre has seen the likes of all the Barrymores, Katherine Hepburn and Edwin Booth, to name a few. (Although his brother's legacy probably tanked his career).
Mel Brooks was quoted in the Inquirer that he cut a great deal of material - including 4 songs - from a recent London production of same. The Walnut, therefore, is staging the first US performance of the revamp. (Sue Stroman - she of Newark DE and Tony Award(s) recipient - did the original direction and choreography).
Brooks' facile wordplay reminds one of similar sexually-charged wordsmithing by Cole Porter. The zingers both in the songs and the dialogue come at you like a Gatling gun. They are not for the faint of heart or for those that don't see carnal innuendo in...well...just about everything. E.g." "Your genitalia has been known to fail ya". Nuance, thy name is not Mel Brooks!
The opening night audience was all in and applauding their local favorites.
The bewigged Ben Dibble plays the title character. The man is a consummate performer; actor, comedian, dancer and his supremely impressive multi-range vocal chops cascaded through the audience in his final "Frederick's Soliloquy".
The two leading ladies, Elizabeth (Casey Elizabeth Gill) and Inga (Alanna J. Smith) were outstanding. One must focus on Brooks' lyrics to get the joke. The melodies are to a large part mundane; the lyrics are the message. Gill was unerring in her emphasis on the right downbeat at the right time. Playing the archetypal, platinum-spooned doyenne (fiancé of Frederick), in her "Don't Touch Me" she knew exactly what to provoke. Even more so with the exaggerated "Deep Love", the result of an overnight tryst in The Monster cave. The latter is a new song, along with most in the show. So, if you have seen it staged previously, you are in for new hysterics.
Smith's Inga, Frederick's eventual love interest, was reminiscent of Ulla in THE PRODUCERS. Her "Roll In The Hay" was off the charts hysterical. Additionally, the staging of that number with two actors dressed in horse heads in front of the hay cart, prancing as if they were Clydesdales was marvelously creative. For the first 2 minutes of the number I was fooled in thinking "how did they get real horses on the stage and have them stay in place'? (Ah, the magic and wonderment of live theatre!) Their winnowing in horror at Frau Blucher's name was just one of the plethora of running jokes in this vaudevillian-style spoof.
Direction by Charles Abbott was fast-paced, never allowing the audience to quit their attention to the next scene of hijinks. One such scene that did not progress the plot was in the Hermit's Cottage. The blind Hermit (Fran Prisco) laments his loneliness in "Someone". Well, in a 'great theatrical coincidence', who plows through the wall but the Monster (Dan Olmstead)? This sets up a charmingly silly scene out of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. The Monster's 'takes' were hilarious, poor guy.
In supporting roles Frau Blucher (Mary Martello) reminded one of Lurch in THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Her "He Was My Boyfriend" ('he plowed me until the cows came home") was sang just the way Brooks would have wished. Igor (pronounced EYEgore) (Luke Bradt) sported dancing, Marty Feldman-type eyes and an ever-changing hump.
Scenic Design by Robert Kovach was outstanding. Frankenstein's laboratory was breathtaking and received applause on its own. Costumes by Mary Folino were both period and gorgeous, especially those worn by Elizabeth. One tech aspect that gets no recognition if good but is the first to criticize if bad is Sound Design. Ed Chapman filled the venue with the proper balance.
This past May the Walnut Street Theatre announced an expansion. The capital expansion includes a fully-renovated lobby and box office, additional space for its growing education programs, two state-of-the-art rehearsal halls, a public restaurant, and the centerpiece of the project, a 400-seat theatre-in the-round, which will be the first of its kind in the region. The expansion takes over the existing parking lot. In recognition of his tremendous donation, this new stage has been named after Matt Garfield.
Through October 20
Next Up: SHREK THE MUSICAL - Nov 5 - Jan 5