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BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.


BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

Tuesday 23rd February 2021, 7:30pm, Hayes Theatre

Mel Brooks (music, lyrics and book) and Thomas Meehan's (book) 2007 musical theatre adaptation of Brooks and Gene Wilder's 1974 comedy horror film parody of the classic horror film genre is given new life with Alexander Berlage's bold and brilliant interpretation of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Presented at a time when unseen dangers have gripped the world and the hazards of fear founded in uninformed speculation have hampered progress in managing the situation, this work is a reminder to be open to real information in order properly understand what is real and what has been conjured up in our anxieties.

BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Brooks and Wilder's 1974 cinematic creation that provides the source material for Brooks and Meehan's collaboration poses the idea that following the death of Victor Frankenstein, the monster creating scientist of Mary Shelley's 19th Century science fiction gothic horror, his long-lost grandson Frederick (Matthew Backer) is drawn to Transylvania to settle the estate. While Frederick, a Dean of Anatomy at a New York medical college, has devoted his life to science, he has sought to distance himself from his notorious ancestor to the point of pronouncing his name "Fronkensteen", so really just wants deal with his inheritance quickly then return to his fiancé Elizabeth (Shannon Dooley) as soon as possible. The inhabitants of the Frankenstein family castle however have different ideas, hoping that junior will carry on with grandpa's work which plays to the villages fears that another Frankenstein means more mysterious experiments and monsters, all of which eventuates with true horror film genre predictability.

BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The nature of horror stories is that they seek to play on the audience's fears and anxieties and this is further twisted and distorted with delightfully creative results. Set designer Isabel Hudson provides the perfect base for this warped story with an acid green Escher inspired world of staircases to nowhere and absurd proportions which adds to the confusion while also adding height variety. She pays homage to the work's cinematic origins and inspirations with a lightbulb bordered proscenium and the use of black and white footage and silent move style captions. BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Costume designer Mason Browne delivers his fantastic brand of absurd high camp and inventive repurposing of items with bold colours and extreme wigs. He ensures that Frederick's conservative geeky character stands out against the insanity around him with a brown tweed suit, bow tie, Fair- Isle knitted vest and preppy neat hairstyle. His betrothed, silicone enhanced socialite Elizabeth (Shannon Dooley) is presented as a modern day socially acceptable type of created monster with fake hair, lashes, nails and everything else in between with a high camp, high color expression that can't even be relied upon as real under Trent Suidgeest's magic lighting manipulation. Servant Igor's (Luke Leong-Tay) mysterious hump is achieved with amusing simplicity of a movable cushion while diminutive housekeeper Frau Blucher (Lucia Mastrantone) is enveloped in Vivienne Westwood style tartan puffs and pleats to echo her extreme personality. The cross-gender casting of Ben Gerrard as Laboratory Assistant Inga and Amy Hack as the missing limbed Inspector Kemp is played up with a taffeta and pleather drag confection and a pantomime style expression, respectively. BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. As with Berlage's previous offerings, he ensures that he balances the absurd storyline with heartfelt and committed expressions where the characters are presented with conviction and connection that ensures the audience is drawn into the story, even when being reminded of the insanity with fourth wall breaking captions and comments. While Shannon Dooley is outrageously over the top as a caricature that seems like an homage to Jennifer Coolidge's Sophie from Two Broke Girls on steroids, she presents Elizabeth with a fabulous naturalness that few others with such an absurd character could carry off. Amy Hack and Olivia Charalambous' pantomime villains of Inspector Kemp and sidekick, village idiot Ziggy, are delivered with a self-awareness that their characters are plot devices used to represent the feelings of an unseen village and they have a strong sense of comedy to give the performance a sense of impromptu adaptation. Given Frau Blucher has an unhealthy obsession with the deceased, Lucia Mastrantone ensures her expression is the most maniacal of the band of horror characters, pushing the characterization well into the absurd to reflect the level of "normality" of the characters closer to Fredrick who want to contain and understand the creation. BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. As Frederick's main supporters Inga and Igor, Ben Gerrard and Luke Leong-Tay provide genuine and connected expressions that ensure their characters are infused with humanity. While Gerrard delvers a glamourous expression of the young assistant, the gender queer element is downplayed as Gerrard is seen as playing a female role, not playing a person in a drag role so the underlying gender is not as important as the blossoming relationship between Frederick and Inga. Leong-Tay gives devoted and dimwitted servant Igor a charm and likability with crooked grin and childlike desire to please. BWW REVIEW: Hayes Theatre Reopens With The Fabulously Absurd YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The standout performance comes from leading man Matthew Backer. Backer has a wonderful physicality and nuanced expression that captures the conservative scientist with a lived-in ease and natural simplicity. He gives the science nerd a requisite level of awkwardness that stems from unease at social situations and the need to maintain manners while letting the elements of his true self gradually emerge like when Igor gets him to open up and enjoy the idea of working together. The strength of Backer's performance is made even better by his fabulous strong and clear vocals that express a understanding and connection with Brooks' clever lyrics.

This parody of the horror genre is a perfect escape from the madness of the real world while providing food for thought on what induces fear, reminding us of the importance to understand the full truth before allowing uninformed prejudice to color our reactions. While it is understood that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN may already be sold out, follow Hayes Theatre for information about last minute seat availability as this is definitely worth seeing.

Photos: Daniel Boud

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