BWW Reviews: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at The Ogunquit Playhouse: Bring Your Tissues; You Will Laugh Until You Cry
It's hard to imagine the existence of the modern musical comedy without the likes of Mel Brooks. In 2001, his first major foray into the art form premiered on Broadway: The Producers. It went on to win a record 12 Tony Awards, and solidified his role as someone to be reckoned with in the genre. 6 years later, arguably his best, funniest and most popular movie YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was transformed into a musical on the Great White Way. And if you are lucky enough to see the Ogunquit Playhouse's amazing production of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, you'll wonder why the Broadway production ever closed.
Only a brilliant comedic mind like Brook's would consider turning a classic horror story into a ridiculous comedy. But, the proof is in the pudding: The movie is listed as number 13 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Funniest American Movies. In 2003, it was deemed "culturally, historically or esthetically significant" by the United States National Film Preservation Board and thus was chosen to be preserved in the Library Of Congress. It joins classic films like Gone With The Wind, Lawrence Of Arabia and many others. A Mel Brooks comedy about a mad doctor bringing a corpse to life. Imagine that.
The musical strays very little from the motion picture, but is of course a love letter to Mary Shelley's original story Frankenstein, the horror movie genre and most importantly, Broadway musicals. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced "FRONK-en-steen") (John Bolton) has distanced himself from his family's sordid monster-making past by studying the workings of the brain, and teaching at a university in America. However, when he receives news from Transylvania that he must travel to his grandfather Victor's home to preserve his estate following his death, he reluctantly agrees. His high-strung fiance Elizabeth (Lesley McKinnell) sees him off before his journey, and shortly after landing in the foreign country he meets Igor (pronounced "EYE-gore") (Nathan Klau), the grandson the famed mad doctor's assistant of the same name. The voluptuous Inga (Lara Siebert) joins them on their way to Frankenstein's castle, where they meet Victor's long-time house maid Frau Blucher (Sandy Rosenberg). Surrounded by his grandfather's life work, Frederick eventually follows in his grandfather's footsteps and begins work on a Monster (Bradley Nacht) of his own; much to the dismay of Transylvania's townspeople.
If you missed the show on Broadway or the 1st National Tour, never fear. Under the brilliant direction of Jeff Whiting (Asst. Choreographer for the Broadway production, director of the tour, and numerous other Broadway and tour credits including the critically acclaimed The Scottsboro Boys) this production is as close as you can get to the Great White Way. The eye-popping, dazzling set by Robin Wagner (known for his designs of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and The Producers on Broadway (he won a Tony for the latter)) is truly awe inspiring. Particularly, Frankenstein's laboratory is a sight to behold; it seems to stretch into the stratosphere, and is adorned with practical lights, buttons, levers, skulls and frighteningly life-like experiments. The costumes are from the original Broadway production, designed by costume design impresario William Ivey Long (5 time Tony Award winner, most famously for The Producers). No wonder Mr. Long has so many Tony's and has been inducted into the Theatre Hall Of Fame; they are stunning, gorgeous and you can't imagine any production NOT using them. Complimenting these luscious costumes are Leah Munsey-Konops' brilliant wigs and makeup design. So lifelike are they, you'll swear the Monster's head was actually opened and sewn back together. Rounding out the creative team are the amazing talents of Don Hanna (Sound Design) and Richard Latta (Lighting Design), whose stunning lightning displays and sound effects will make you feel as though you are actually in the laboratory.
Now, to the (so talented it's unbelievable) cast. John Bolton as Dr. Frankenstein is a master at his craft. Amazing comedic timing aside, his voice commands your ears and evokes laughter with seeming effortlessness. Though he may not be imitating the great Gene Wilder his performance gives a wink and a nod to the great man; but Mr. Bolton makes this role his own. His fiance Elizabeth in the more than capable hands of Lesley McKinnell is the embodiment of hilarity. Evoking thoughts of Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig, she will have you laughing until you get stomach pains; especially in her rendition of "Deep Love".
Nathan Klau as the floating hump-having assistant Igor will make you guffaw; ridiculously funny with a great voice to match, he is the perfect yin to Mr. Bolton's yang. Lara Siebert is delightfully funny and stunningly gorgeous as the yodeling milk-maid next door, Inga. Her tongue in cheek "Roll In The Hay" sets the stage for the double entendre and innuendo to come. And it's not hard to see why Dr. Frankenstein is enamored of her.
When Sandy Rosenberg steps onstage as Frau Blucher, you are watching a comedienne of epic proportions; her powerful voice and outstanding comedic chops kept the audience in tears for the entirety of the show, but particularly her song "He Vas My Boyfriend". Bradley Nacht as the Monster is equally frightening and hilarious. And though you may have seen the movie and expect what's coming as "Puttin' On The Ritz" starts, you will end up laughing until you cry anyway. His moaning, mumbling performance is not one to miss. Genius.
Not to be left out is Tom Souhrada as Inspector Kemp/The Hermit. His physical comedy will keep you in stitches, and his song "Please Send Me Someone" in the second act stops the show. Making Transylvania come alive are the FANTASTIC ensemble comprised of Michael Peter Deeb, Jerome Doerger (an AMAZING voice; watch for him as Victor Frankenstein), Lawrence Fernandez, Brett Figel, Kinsland Howell, Beau Hutchings, Lauren Kadel, Ted Kenner, Ashley Munzek, Adrienne Paquin, Sara Michelle Reardon, Shaun Repetto, Kristen Schoen-Rene, Jeffrey Scott Stevens and Erin Wegner Brooks. It never ceases to amaze me how fantastic Ogunquit's ensembles are; and their tap number in the 2nd act is worth the price of admission.
Whether you have seen Mel Brooks' movies or not, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is not to be missed at the Ogunquit Playhouse. A rollicking and rowdy good time, and some performers that should be household names. Please visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org for tickets and more information on their 81st season.