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BWW Reviews: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN Raises the Dead at PMT

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As a general rule, my taste in PMT shows dictates that the more opportunities the play gives for resident clowns Tim Hartman and Brady Patsy to wear wigs and be funny, the better the show likely is. When I heard that the company would be performing Mel Brooks's "Young Frankenstein," based on the classic black-and-white movie comedy, I knew that the show could rest easily on their shoulders. What I didn't anticipate was that it wouldn't have to. After two years of reviewing everything from "Les Miserables" to "Seussical," with everything in between, I can say with confidence that "Young Frankenstein" is the best PMT show in recent history, bar none.

Forever in the shadow of his infamous ancestor, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein- say it with me, FRONK-en-STEEN- (Trey Compton) has become a talented and capable New York professor, specializing in the brain. Upon inheriting his ancestral castle in Transylvania, Frederick meets his new henchmen, Igor- say it with me, EYE-gor- (Quinn Patrick Shannon) and Frau Blucher- say it with me, WHINNNYYYYYY- (Tammy Townsend), who convince him to finish his family's work of raising the dead and building monsters from reanimated corpses. The addition of gorgeous lab assistant Inga (Lara Hayhurst, Compton's real-life wife) seals the deal, and Frederick resurrects the Monster (Tim Hartman), a hulking, simple soul with difficulty controlling its rage issues. Chaos and lots of dancing inevitably ensues.

In the central role, Trey Compton fits the material like a glove, handling the patter songs, vaudeville back-and-forths and slapstick comedy that Mel Brooks musicals typically serve up in a leading man. Multiple times during the show, I had to check my program to assure myself I wasn't seeing Roger Bart, Brooks's long-time stage collaborator. Nervous, high-strung and slightly camp, Compton's Frederick dashes, bounces and sometimes swoons across the stage like a man a few moments from a complete mental breakdown. Of course, it wouldn't be Mel Brooks if the leading man didn't share straight man and funny man duties equally with his partner, and Quinn Patrick Shannon's Igor is a delight. All goggling eyes and easy demeanor, Shannon controls the stage in multiple song and dance numbers like a hunchbacked Zangler in "Crazy for You." Lara Hayhurst sings and dances well, and has a winning demeanor, but her material gives her less chances to shine- on stage or onscreen, Inga often feels like a rehash of the more fully-drawn Ulla character in "The Producers." (The minute Compton, Shannon and Hayhurst star in "The Producers" together, I will be first in line for tickets.)

The supporting leads are just as strong as the main cast. Tim Hartman's knack for physical comedy comes in handy as he portrays the Monster with the appropriate strength and growing command of body function, and his hyper-expressive face must handle much of the character's mostly-nonverbal communication. As Frau Blucher, Tammy Townsend brings a bizarre warmth to the chilly Germanic role, playing the character as harsh on the outside, but soft within. And, of course, Brady Patsy steals the show in his two cameos, one as a wild-haired Frankenstein ancestor, the other as the infamous blind Hermit who befriends the Monster. In the original Broadway production, the actor playing the Hermit played several other comedic roles as well, so it would have been nice to see more of Patsy, but with such a large and talented cast, it was no great loss. Finally, as "madcap fiancée" Elizabeth, Andrea Weinzierl steals the show in her handful of appearances. While she performed well as Ursula in last month's "Disney's The Little Mermaid," weak material let her down in that production. Here, she gets to shine with music and scenes that allow her to use her talents, not smother them.

Colleen Petrucci's direction and Lisa Elliot's choreography bring the laughs and the applause consistently, without ever being too derivative of the original stage version- a fault which productions of "The Producers" all too often find themselves guilty of. Clever, quirky surprises abound in between the familiar scenes from the film and stage show: the Monster's dance solo against his own disembodied shadow; Frau Blucher's choice of reading material; a village idiot inexplicably dressed and made up as Ed Grimley. But the show's charm is the blend of the familiar and unexpected. Mel Brooks is a gifted writer and collaborator, and his central strength is his ability to make old material, jokes and shtick sometimes a century old, feel fresh and new. His talent as a songwriter is similar: other than the obligatory performance of "Puttin' On the Ritz" that serves as the eleven o'clock number, all the songs in the show are new, but feel vintage. Just like "The Producers," one gets a sense of a Golden Age musical revived when hearing a new Mel Brooks show. (Purists have argued that he has no musical sense, humming the melodies and plunking notes on a piano for his orchestrator, but if that method is good enough for Irving Berlin, Paul Williams and Danny Elfman, it's good enough for Mel Brooks.)

Parents be aware- the stage show is a little raunchier than the not-too-blue movie it's based on, but not by much. Even the adult humor is relatively harmless- a few prop-based double entendres, some innuendo here and there, and of course, the whole cast singing a chorale of various words for female upper anatomy. But all things considered, you'd have to be pretty Abby Normal to not enjoy "Young Frankenstein."


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From This Author Greg Kerestan