Review by Lori Schneider
FORESTBURGH, NY (July 1, 2015) – “If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go…” to the Forestburgh Playhouse for an electrifying production of the Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein – sure to chase any blues away! Somewhat hesitant, I entered the Playhouse on opening night. A diehard fan of the film, when I first heard a musical had been written around it, I was skeptical and never saw its Broadway incarnation – “Why mess with perfection?” But, as was the case with The Producers, with book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, a cult classic has been taken from screen to stage – once again, showing Brooks’ multi-faceted brilliance.
I “deeply loved” the show – smiling throughout, chuckling in anticipation and enjoying how much of the beloved dialogue and shtick from the original are retained and integrated into song. From the powerful leads to the energetic ensemble, through the seamless scene changes that keep the pace moving, Director Larry Smiglewski has breathed life into his creation, and shaped a sharp production.
I’ve seen acting defined as “playing a role onstage while trying to avoid falling scenery, laryngitis and everyone comparing you to those who’ve played the role before.” I admit, it was hard, going in, not to make comparisons – the iconic roles were all but written for Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn and Teri Garr – even Gene Hackman’s cameo is classic. Forestburgh’s cast lovingly nods at these performances – at times even acting as a conduit to these greats – but still manages to make the roles their own.
"The Happiest Town in Town” (the first of several numbers that showcase the polished choreography of Andrew Chartier) has the Villagers set the story – Baron Victor Von Frankenstein has died, no longer will they be plagued by his monsters. His lone living relative, a Surgeon and Professor in New York City will surely never come to Transylvania! In “(There is Nothing Like) The Brain,” we meet Dr. Frederick Frahn-ken-steen (not to be too closely associated with his infamous, wacky grandfather) – the smooth and multi-talented Scott Evans who handles the monster-sized role with ease. The good doctor is summoned to sort out his grandfather’s affairs and is whisked away via ocean liner, where he bids farewell, dockside, to his quirky fiancé. Liane Zielinski delivers a solid performance as Elizabeth – from her “Please Don’t Touch Me” and throughout the show.
Jim Bray is a powerhouse of an Igor (that’s pronounced “Eye-gor”), a song and dance man extraordinaire with a migrating hump. Seems Igor’s grandfather worked for Frederick’s grandfather and Igor tries to impress upon the ever-refusing Frederick that they should follow in their grandfather’s footsteps (though the rates have gone up since then!) “Together Again for the First Time” is a toe-tapping romp featuring Bray and Evans, wonderful chemistry between the two, and some seriously fancy footwork. Enter Inga, the sexy Laboratory Assistant (Tristen Buettel), who has the comic timing, high kicks and singing chops to be a true triple threat. “Roll in the Hay” embraces the suggestive fun amidst yodeling and Igor’s cracking whip.
When they arrive at the Castle, the three are greeted by housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Whiiiinnneeeyyy!), masterfully played by the shining, Rebecca Simon, who clearly is having a good time with this role. Considering there are no real horses that have pulled the wagon, the ongoing gag of the horses whinnying each time Blucher’s name is mentioned is even funnier as the characters look around at first, as if to say “Horses? What horses?”
Frederick does come around to “Join the Family Business” and is lured to the Laboratory where he reads his grandfather’s account of “How I Did It” – and learns that Victor and Frau Blucher (Whiiiinnneeeyyy!) had more than just a professional relationship through Simon’s gutsy, “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
Frederick sends Igor for the brain of Hans Delbruck, genius and saint, which he plans to put into the body they’ve dug up – a large man whose veins, organs, hands, feet are all enlarged – making for a very popular guy – Woof! But Igor drops that brain, and takes another in its place. Abby someone… This is only admitted once the creature awakens, inarticulate, unstable and threatening.
“Welcome to Transylvania” features Inspector Kemp (a characterful, Matthew Lynn) and the men with impeccable Barbershop Quartet harmonies. The rule of thumb in Musical Theatre is to end Act One with a big number that’ll leave ‘em wanting more –and “Transylvania Mania” fits the bill beautifully with Igor’s hilarious diversion of the Villagers as he covers the Creature’s moans, erupting into a show-stopper that ends with the Creature on the loose through the audience.
As Inga and Frederick get closer (“Listen to Your Heart”), an untimely visit finds Elizabeth showing up at the Castle (“Surprise”). “Please Send Me Someone” sets the scene for Ezekiel Edmonds’ plaintive Hermit, the blind man who longs for company and the mishaps the Monster endures after stumbling into his home. Once recaptured, Frederick convinces his creature that he is not evil, but good and that he is loved.
“Puttin’ on the Ritz,” (a carryover from the film, where it’s the only musical number) has Dr. Frankenstein introducing his Monster (the amazingly versatile Trent Blanton) to the Public as a polished, man-about-town. Big and glitzy, the number goes on to feature the whole ensemble and sees Blanton go from lumbering giant to tapping tempest with a boyish grin. Startled by a flash, the Monster runs off, taking Elizabeth as he goes.
In true Brooksian fashion of naughty, bawdy, irreverent innuendo, “Deep Love” is an uproarious song that leaves the audience gasping for air as Elizabeth is transformed into the Bride of Frankenstein after five or six “quickies!”
When the Monster is persuaded back to the castle by Igor’s mournful music, Frederick attempts a last ditch effort to save him – an experiment in ‘transference’ where the Monster will receive part of the Doctor’s brain. Only after this is complete do we hear Blanton’s Monster articulate (“Why does he sound like Noel Coward?!”) – poised and delivering a gorgeous reprise of “Deep Love” where he ends up proposing to Elizabeth – leaving Frederick to propose to Inga!
With superb Musical Direction by Michael Hopewell, beautiful and clever Scenic Design by Tom Golebiewski, colorful and effective Costume Design by Mark Sorensen and Lighting Design by Michael O’Connor that works in perfect concert with the Sound Design by Dave Sanford, Young Frankenstein is a delightful, fun-filled monster of a hit! The show runs through Sunday, July 12. For ticket information, phone (845) 794-1194 or go to http://www.fbplayhouse.org