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BWW Reviews: Island ETC's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is Frolicking, Frivolous, and Entertaining

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As usual, the summer is chockfull of mind numbing entertainment. Hollywood releases action packed blockbusters. Television channels flood the airwaves with brainless reality shows and thinly written dramas. Everywhere you turn, there are offerings of entertainment for the sake of entertainment. Summer musicals are no exception, and Galveston's Island East-End Theatre Company (ETC) is presenting Mel Brook's glitzy, splashy musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN to pad out this summer. Following the wild success of THE PRODUCERS, Mel Brooks reassembled his creative team and jumped back into the saddle of creating theatrical musicals. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN had it's pre-Broadway try-out in Seattle in 2007, ran on Broadway from November 8, 2007 through January 4, 2009, and has had enjoyed two successful national tours across the United States.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Mel Brooks' latest musical, is based on his 1974 film of the same name. With a Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Music and Lyrics by Mel Books, the musical follows the same plot as the film. Regarding structure and plot, there are relatively few differences, allowing all the added music (as only Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" is performed in the film) to further flesh out the zany story. The show opens in 1934 with Transylvanians celebrating the death of Dr. Victor von Frankenstein. Their reprieve from living Frankenstein free is cut short when they are notified of a living heir, a New York based doctor by the name of Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced "Fronkensteen"). Before long he journeys to the somewhat secluded castle, and is persuaded by Igor (pronounced "Eye-gore") and a dream about his ancestors to join the family business.

Direction by Kim Mytelka and Choreography by Jennifer Daugherty are reminiscent of Susan Stroman's original Direction and Choreography, which I enjoyed when the production toured through Houston's Hobby Center. Both women embrace the gaudy qualities of the big musical, giving it all the sparkling pizzazz that one would expect from such a show. Likewise, Kim Mytelka channels her own inner Mel Brooks, ensuring that his often cherished playful sexism is consistently present throughout the show and elicits everything from smirks to hearty guffaws from the audience. Even Mel Brooks' lackadaisical jokes centered on rape culture in the show are given light and finessed treatment, bringing forth gleeful laughs. While this material is reprehensibly offensive to some, for most, the silly and completely over-the-top treatment that Kim Mytelka brings out of her cast makes the evening jovially mirthful.

Musical Direction by Carol Daubert keeps the music lighthearted, interesting, and appropriately atmospheric. Last time I heard this score an orchestra was playing it, but her paired down orchestrations for the small band do the score justice. They play it with liveliness and sincere gusto. She has also excellently coached the cast through the score. Some pitches, especially in "The Happiest Town in Town," seemed to me misplaced in larger ensemble numbers, but the cast soldiered on and kept performing with tangible vigor.

Starring as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Edwin Robinson is hilarious and amiable. He goes for broke with the madcap frantic and frenetic aspects of the character. He is passionate and explosive about his work and its successes. Stretching my memory back a little over 3 years ago, I feel that Edwin Robinson was more rambunctious than Roger Bart was. Regardless, he made it work for his portrayal of the character, leaving the vociferous audience in stitches time and time again. Additionally, his singing voice is in fantastic shape. He applied splendid and laudable vocalizations throughout the entire show. His renditions of "Together Again for the First Time," "Life, Life" and "Puttin' On The Ritz" were all strong performances. I enjoyed his take on "The Brain," but he seemed to get tongue-tied towards the end of the song the evening I saw the show.

Playing Igor, Matt Poole was an ebullient and energetic scene-stealer. His screwball facial expressions and impeccable comedic timing made the audience ecstatically roll with laughter and cheer for him time and time again. His energy bounced through the roof, off of the walls, and really drew the audience into the production. Moreover, his skilled voice was expertly applied to "Together Again for the First Time," "Life, Life," and "Transylvania Mania."

Katie Harrison's Inga is effervescing, hilariously ditzy, and sultry. In many ways Inga and Ulla from THE PRODUCERS are the same character, and Katie Harrison perfectly embraced this likeness. Her Inga is sweet, caring, kind, and unassuming. The naïve aspects of the character make her sensuality and sexuality humorous, leaving ample room for feminists to skewer the writing in the show. In this cartoonish character, Katie Harrison brings a truth to her portrayal that makes her Inga charming and mesmerizing. Add in her immaculate and gorgeous voice and her performance is solidified as being remarkable. She yodels with deft precision, earning fervent roars of admiration from the audience. Her versions of "Roll in the Hay" and "Listen to Your Heart" are truly delightful. Additionally, her voice adds glistening heights and resonance to "Life, Life."

Taking the stage as Frau Blucher, Patty Talley is simply fantastic. She contorts her face with notable skill. She embraces every wacky aspect of her character, delivering comedic gold from her first appearance on the stage through the end of the show. The awkward but lovable personage Patty Talley creates for the stage is my favorite character in the show because she is so bold and brash without ever realizing it. Patty Talley also magnificently sells "He Vas My Boyfriend" in addition to adding beautiful harmonies to "Life, Life."

As Elizabeth, Daniela V. Hart gave a mixed performance. She inconsistently crafts the character as a nasally, whining brat and as an ostentatiously pretentious snob. While these personas are cast in the same vein, the stereotyping of each is distinctive and does not blend well with the other, making me wish she'd choose one asset and stick with it. Daniela V. Hart applies a similar approach to her vocalizations of the character's riotous numbers, making her performances of "Please Don't Touch Me," "Surprise," and "Deep Love" sound pitchy and flawed as she vacillates between a nasal head voice and melodically deep chest voice. Certainly it is hard to fill the shoes of an actress like Megan Mullally, who originated the role on Broadway, or even Kristen Chenoweth, who Mel Brooks intended to play the role, but I feel Daniela V. Hart could have done it. In fact, she almost gets there. Once she blows past whatever caused her performance to seem shaky and really begins to have fun with the role, I'm certain she will shine on the stage with a character that is perfectly stereotyped and amiably droll because of it.

The Monster is well played by Cameron Dunbar. In many ways, it's a thankless role because there is not much that can be done with it. Act mute, bumble around, have hot soup poured on you, and have your thumb lit like a cigar. It's all pratfalls and absurdity, but Cameron Dunbar does the role justice and earns the requisite laughter. The same can be said for his vocals on "Puttin' On the Ritz" and "Deep Love (Reprise)."

The rest of the large cast and ensemble do commendable work as well, filling out the stage and completing the images created by Kim Mytelka. Standout moments include Alex Petty's wooden and austere Inspector Hans Kemp, Trevor Grace's astounding vocals on "Join the Family Business," and the exuberant and energetic tap sequence during "Puttin' On the Ritz."

Scenic Design by Tom Boone is phenomenal. The original Broadway set was notoriously expensive and complex. Simply put, this show's book calls for a convoluted design. Honestly, for technical reasons alone, I'm surprised that any theatre with a limited budget would consider producing the show. Despite this, Tom Boone's expensive looking and cleverly versatile set is phenomenal. It tackles the scenic demands without a flaw, preserving signature moments from the film (i.e. the spinning wall).

Light Design by Lisa Miller is richly ambient. She uses blues and greens to create gentle shadows on the stage while mixing in bright and vibrant washes of golds and reds to enhance mood.

Costume Design by Jutta 'Charlie' Franklin is mostly superb. She captures the period looks for the New Yorkers and handles the classic Transylvanian/Eastern European garb well too. The only design I'm not fond of is Elizabeth's pink dress and pants suit. They just do not look lavish and opulent enough for the character.

Sound Design by Daniela V. Hart mixes in ominous thunderclaps and other various horror sound effects with skill. It does not appear that the human voice is amplified in any way, and in the intimate venue it wasn't needed.

Island ETC's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a frolicking and frivolous summer indulgence, even with imperfections. This production does what it was intended to do. It effortlessly and abundantly entertains with a comedic romp through a classic tale. It replaces horror and fear with giggles and laughs. It presents a fun night out on the town that many can and will enjoy.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN runs at Island ETC, 2317 Mechanic Street, Galveston through August 17, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.islandetc.org or call (888) 762-3556.

All photos courtesy of Island ETC.


Promotional Poster.


Frederick Frankenstein (Edwin Robinson) reacts to his fiancee, Elizabeth Bening (Daniela Hart) telling him there will be no touching before the wedding in Island ETC's production of The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.


Some of the male villagers of Transylvania sing the oath about creating monsters in Island ETC's current production of The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN running through August 17th. (Pictured are Lance Bleakney, Justin Myers, Trevor Grace, and Ryan VanDeWalli.)


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