BWW Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at Kinneksbond
Last night, we had the opportunity to watch the dress rehearsals of "Young Frankenstein", the most recent project of Pirate Productions. Unlike most events we have covered so far in Luxembourg, this is the work of a company composed entirely by residents of the Grand Duchy, so we finally got a chance to see what this small nation has to offer.
The story follows Frederick Frankenstein (Victor Bonanno), a notorious brain surgeon who has dedicated most of his life to science and the pursuit of knowledge. He is haunted by his grandfather's reputation, and constantly reminded of the old doctor's infamous experiences. Bonanno is a recurrent casting choice in musical theater and we can easily understand why. Frederick is the conducting force of the entire narrative, which makes this character present in practically every scene. Not many actors in amateur theater have the capacity to be so much for so long, providing the same brilliant execution and well-balanced energy from beginning to end. He managed to perfectly pull off the fastest parts of extremely complex songs, like Brain, and give Frederick a believable and genuine character development.
As much as our young Frankenstein likes his life in America, he is forced to travel to Transylvania after the death of his grandfather, leaving behind his wealthy fiancée, Elizabeth (Catriona Gillham). Although this character does not get a lot of time on stage, we simply cannot abstain from mentioning her performance. From the annoying American accent to the fancy upperclass mannerisms, Gillham was just perfect as Elizabeth. She stole the show in every scene and played very well with her character's recurrent innuendo and ambiguous sexual desires.
Upon arriving in Transylvania, a land that, according to Mel Brooks, was apparently composed exclusively by Transylvanian Saxons with a strong German accent, Frederick meets Igor (Simon Taylor-Kielty), the awkward grandson of the old doctor's assistant. He declares that it has always been his dream to work for a Frankenstein and to resume the research started decades earlier by their relatives. Taylor-Kielty was hilarious in every single scene, resorting to a masterful mix of intonation and humorous facial expressions to deliver most of his lines. His great acting skills almost made this role seem easy, and he managed not to overdo Igor's goofy personality, which is probably one of the greatest risks when working with this type of character. We would also make the case that Igor and Frankenstein had the best chemistry on stage, even considering all the romantic connections established throughout the narrative.
Frederick promptly declines his offer. However, he soon changes his mind after meeting Inga (Jennie Kenton), a young woman hired by Igor to assist them at the lab. This Transylvanian beauty seems to be everything Elizabeth is not - naive, intelligent and genuinely interested in the good doctor. While this character is quite sexualized, there is an unspoken innocence in Kenton's delivery. That was perhaps one of the most complex acting challenges of the play - to present a girl who makes her intentions known more often by the sway of her legs than by the direct use of her voice, while still remaining one of the most innocent characters in the show. It would be very easy to have Inga converted into simple eye candy, yet Kenton brilliantly avoids this mistake. We can think of no better person for this role - there are not many young actresses capable of understanding the distinction between lighthearted harlotry and the graceful art of seduction.
Once the trio arrives at Frankenstein's old castle, they are introduced to Frau Blücher (Ciara Barker), the housekeeper. Barker was the most outstanding performer of the ensemble. It took us some time to phrase this paragraph, because it is hard to find the right words when you see actors at the very top of their game, so we will just say it as it is. She absolutely excelled at both acting and singing, and her version of Frau Blücher could very easily rival that of any professional actor. He Vas My Boyfriend was perhaps the best solo of the night, an extraordinary rendition full of humour, energy and emotion. Many of Baker's spoken lines and gestures had to be in tune with the orchestra, in order to provide the desired ominous sound effects, and at all times they pretty much seemed to act as one. The result was great - a powerful and stern character, with an undying determination and endlessly faithful to her deceased lover. Well, at least at heart.
It is impossible to review every speaking role in this article, but a quick word of praise to Florin Purice (the monster), Mike West (Inspector Kemp) and Brian Parker (the hermit). The monster's muteness, Kemp's prosthetic limbs and the hermit's blindness meant these were the most physical characters of the show, something that gave these actors an additional challenge. All three were great in their roles, and delivered wonderful renditions of classics like Puttin on the Ritz and Please Send me Someone.
Our most sincere congratulations to everyone who participated in this show, but especially to Neil Johnson, Philip Dutton and Valerie Scott. Johnson has been responsible for directing some of the best musicals staged in Luxembourg in recent years, and somehow always manages to deliver something new and refreshing, while keeping his usual standards of excellency. As for Dutton and Scott, the two co-chairs of this great company, they have contributed more for the production of culture in English than practically anyone we know in Luxembourg. They have been a reference over the years, investing in amateur talent and offering this small and quiet city of expats some of the artistic excitement it so often needs.
Tickets are still available but not for long, so if you are anywhere near the Grand Duchy, then don't wait around!