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Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at Ogunquit Playhouse

The Mel Brooks Musical

Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at Ogunquit Playhouse

Let me get right to the point.

I loved every minute of the musical, Young Frankenstein, the season closer for what has been an incredible year for the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine's treasured seaside town.

Based on Mel Brooks' highly successful 1974 film of the same name, the show is appropriately filled with sharp one liners, extended sight gags, and a fabulously designed set to portray the Mary Shelley classic retelling of the monster arising from the dead Frankenstein saga. And while the score is not particularly memorable when compared to Broadway's library of tunes, it is nonetheless pure fun and enjoyable performed by this multitalented cast of Broadway veterans and newcomers.

The script doesn't deviate much from the screen version that was so well done by Gene Wilder as the mad scientist and Marty Feldman, as Igor, his inept assistant. If you saw the movie, you will know the lines and scenes even before the actors start them on stage.

Fortunately, for this production, the actors have created their own takes on the characters bringing them to life with their own flair and nuance.

The storyline is all too familiar.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (John Bolton) makes a trip to Transylvania to seek out the infamous laboratory he's inherited where his late grandfather was rumored to perform outrageous procedures that included bring the dead back to life. On his departure, his fiancée, Elizabeth, (Soara-Joye Ross) gives him a loveless sendoff off wishing him well but reminding him not to touch her for fear of ruining her makeup or wrinkling her gorgeous evening gown.

On his arrival in T-town, he is greeted by Igor (Will Burton) who will become his inept assistant and Inga (Hannah Cruz), a blonde bombshell more interested in a romantic tryst with the doctor than with the science of his experiments. He also meets Frau Blucher (Sally Struthers), the housekeeper who impishly admits that his grandfather was her "boyfriend."

When he discovers the inner sanctum of his grandfather's laboratory, wonderfully played in a classic stage gimmick involving a revolving bookcase, he vows to recreate his ancestor's work by bringing a cadaver to life once again. He sends Igor off to the task of securing a dead body and the brain of a renown intellectual.

And that's where the monster comes in, played incredibly well by Zachary James, who looks like he is seven feet tall from the view in the seventh row of the orchestra seating. The only glitch for the newly created monster is that instead of bringing the high functioning brain, Igor brings one from Abby Normal. More specifically, that's one marked "Abnormal."

Chaos ensues as the monster comes to life and escapes to the countryside oftentimes being chased by upset Transylvanians led by Inspector Kemp (David Baida), who lost an arm and a leg to a monster previously created in the same laboratory.

Outstanding numbers include the bromance of Frederick and Igor in "Together Again," the delicious foreplay in Inga's, "Roll in the Hay," the somber love song by Frau Blucher in "He Vas My Boyfriend," and the sheer silliness by the entire cast in "Transylvania Mania."

At the helm in the show is Bolton who is spot on in his portrayal of the mad doctor. He's got that "Broadway musical I can sing, dance, and be funny all in one breath" air about him. He makes this production sparkle.

Cruz is a delightfully impish vixen with a powerful voice that would swoon any guy in the audience. She's wonderfully playful, charming and sexy.

Burton's Igor, while not bug eyed like Marty Feldman in the Frankenstein movie, is every bit as stellar in a role that is pure comedic shtick. He's a very funny man.

As I have said many times before, magic fills the Ogunquit Playhouse when TV legend Sally Struthers takes the stage. She's a comic genius with a master of timing that's flawless. Seeing her in this show reminds me how much I missed her during the cancelled season of the pandemic.

And James, as the monster, is a little bit frightful but mostly delightful. Everyone anticipates the showstopping number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," when the creature comes to life as a song and dance man, and James delivers the tune in royal fashion. Even more impressive is his vibrant operatic voice later in the show when he gets some transferred brain power from Frederick.

All ends well as Frederick ends up with Inga, fiancée Elizabeth pairs with the monster, and Frau Blucher ends up with a blind date. (See the show to understand this reference.)

The set is massive and detailed in both the library and laboratory in the Frankenstein mansion and there's plenty of special effects that add to this October theatrical treat. Hard to believe, but the music for the show was piped in from the stage of the playhouse theater to the outdoor pavilion according to artistic director Brad Kenney, in his preshow welcome. Just proves that the orchestra can be located anywhere these days and still sound magnificent.

And speaking of outdoor pavilion, it is akin to one of the seven wonders of the world that the famed Ogunquit Playhouse managed to keep a theater season intact in these pandemic times. While many long to be back in the historic theater, these temporary quarters proved to be spacious, comfortable and safe for audiences throughout the season. It is a compliment to some generous donors and some theatrical chutzpa to be able to pull off such an effort during challenging times.

Photo by Gary Ng
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