Back in the early 19th century — undoubtedly on a dark and stormy night — young Mary Shelley, wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, created one of the most enduring creatures in English literature.
Her book was titled “Frankenstein.” The name referred to Dr. Victor Frankenstein, not the undead monster cobbled together with various limbs from the definitely dead with whom it is definitely associated.
Through the centuries, the story of the doctor and his creation has lived and grown into a wide (and wild) variety of incarnations in plays, movies and television shows. Among the most famous is the 1931 film which made a star of Boris Karloff and gave cinematic dialogue one of its most famous lines: “It’s alive! It’s alive.”
The latest theatrical view of The Monster is indeed alive and well and much more hilarious than horrible. To be honest, I much prefer it to the over-Tonyed “The Producers,” also the work of the wildly creative Mel Brooks. (Note: The script contains a good amount of double entendre and a lot not so double.)
“The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. It is the last show — and may well be the best — of the 2013 season.
Based on Brooks’ now-cult-classic 1974 film, “Young Frankenstein,” the 2007 Broadway hit borrows a monk, adds songs and a buxom lab assistant and definitely gives a new twist to the doctor’s fiancée, all with the aim of making something old new again.
To judge from the frequent interruptions for applause from the opening night audience, Brooks — and The Barn cast — definitely succeeded.
In the title role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen!”), Kevin Robert White does a fine job creating the highly ethical grandson of the original stitcher who, when all is said and done, can’t resist the urge to join the family business. He puts the emphasis on all the right syllables and, once off at a break-neck pace (“There Is Nothing Like The Brain”), never falters, not even for The Barn bats which spent much of act one looking for a way out!
As The Monster with a soft heart and a giant foot on the downbeat, Eric Parker returns to his favorite color (he spent the last two weeks in Shrek green) to deliver a character who needs no words to convey his feelings. In his case, a groan is worth a thousand words!
The undisputed show-stopper here is Penelope Alex as Frau (cue the horses!) Blucher, housekeeper of the castle. Every look and move are perfectly timed to support her depiction of a wildly wacky woman in mourning. When she revealed “He Vas My Boyfriend,” the sustained applause was more than well-deserved.
Another audience favorite (and rightfully so) is the talented Roy Brown in the cowl (and shifting hump) of Igor (”That’s Eye-gor”), faithful assistant to the doctor. His duet with White (“Together Again for the First Time”) is a highlight of their meeting — on Track 29 of the Transylvania Station. !?!Right!?! It is Brooks humor and it just keeps coming!.
Petite Emily Fleming, flying earlier this season as Peter Pan, flies again, this time without wires, as Elizabeth, fast-moving fiancée of Dr. Frankenstein. Her push-me, pull-you solo, “Please Don’t Touch Me,” keeps the already fast action rolling along. Her recognition of “Deep Love,” is an about-face equally well-delivered. With Parker and Philip David Black, who plays a ghostly Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Fleming shares “best voice” honors.
Bethany Edlund is Inga, the accommodating lab assistant, who begins her relationship with the doctor via a “Roll in the Hay,” advises him to “Listen to Your Heart” and joins him — and the Monster and Igor and the villagers of Transylvania Heights — in “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”
Completing the array of familiar characters is Patrick Hunter as Inspector Hans Kemp, village policeman who lost two limbs to the Monster. Describing the price of artificial replacements, he declares “It cost me an arm and a leg!”
And there you have it. About two and a half hours of music and laughs — lots of laughs — with only a few flaws.
On the down side, the scrim used to mask busy cast members moving set pieces, props and furniture behind the actors, rattles annoyingly in its metal rigging and fails to mask anything once the spotlights hit. The wigs need to have the webbing across actors’ foreheads covered and there is a great deal of breaking the fourth wall as characters run up and down the aisles.
These, however, are minor irritations. A story that has lived for almost 200 years is definitely using the right brain!
“The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” plays through Sept. 1 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.