‘Tis the season of Halloween, so it’s no surprise that the on-stage focus is on ghosts, goblins and monsters, especially those that are man-made.
Given that the majority of these are created with terror in mind, it’s refreshing to find a band of creepy creatures whose sole purpose is to make us laugh.
That is the aim of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre’s regional premiere production of the New Mel Brooks Musical “Young Frankenstein.”
Taking its cue(s) from the 1930s films “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” it resurrects (pun intended) all the familiar segments of Brooks’ 1974 film “Young Frankenstein,” adds music and sees just how low it can go — laugh-wise.
Under the direction of Tom Myers, who also created the choreography, the story moves from New York City to Transylvania Heights, with the assistance of projected scenery, bringing back to life the tale of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronk-en-steen!”), grandson of the original mad scientist, now Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine (these are the jokes, folks, and they just keep coming!).
Determined never to follow in his grandfather’s medical footnotes, Frederick (Geoff Trowbridge) nevertheless heads east to check out his inheritance.
Leaving his fiancé (“Please Don’t Touch Me”) Elizabeth Benning (Carly Dunn) behind, he arrives at the Transylvania Station (on Track 29 — I warned you!) to be met by the wonderfully weird and wacky Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”), (Jaymes Hidde-Halsey), who is determined to be his assistant (“Together Again For The First Time”). On the (“Roll in the Hay”)ride to the castle, Frederick is joined (?!) by his grandfather’s lab assistant, Inga (Alexandria Sadowski). Arriving at the castle, he meets the housekeeper Frau (cue the horses!) Blucher (Julie Herrli Castello), who has her own agenda (“He Vas My Boyfriend”).
Urged by the ghosts of Victor F. (Brent Graber) and other assorted ancestors to “Join the Family Business,” Frederick succumbs to temptation and works to reanimate a larger-than-life, pieced-together corpse. Unfortunately, Igor drops the desired genius brain and substitutes one from “Abby Normal.”
The large green, fire-fearing Creature (Jacob Medich) escapes and spends a disastrous visit with a blind hermit (Gene Harding). Then the hunt is on.
As the villagers, led by semi-mechanical Inspector Kemp (Rick Nymeyer) whose first encounter with a Creature “cost me an arm and a leg” (groans here!), close in (“He’s Loose”), another experimental procedure saves the day and puts the improper pairs together (“Deep Love”) as properly as possible.
Trowbridge hits the ground running with his first number, “The Brain,” a true test of patter a la Gilbert and Sullivan that finds every syllable in tact, and never stops, delivering the familiar “It’s alive” with true mad-scientist abandon.
He meets his match in Hidde-Halsey and the duo makes a great comic connection, diving into “Together Again” with great timing and the infectious zeal of a real vaudevillian show-stopper! The shape-shifting Igor (“What hump?”) never loses his stride (“Walk this way!”) or his character or his ability to get a laugh.
Another show-stopper arrives in the second act when Frederick introduces his “civilized” Creature in “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” an extended tap number that received audience cheers opening night. It may not be easy bein’ green, but Medich makes the perfect Creature look like a lot of fun, groans and all. Check out the monster-size tap boots!
The projected scenes allow for fast and easy moves from lab to forest to castle interior, but the often too-loud moves of set pieces and visibility of crew members was distracting.
Costume design by Dawn Blessing fit the medical and rural requirements well and reached new heights in garbing the green Creature! The lighting design by Brian MacGowan and John Shoup was properly (can’t help it!) “electrifying.”
Under the direction of conductor/percussionist Mark Swensden, the excellent seven piece orchestra provided the support and instrumental requirements and was a mood-setting addition to the production.
Myers keeps the pace moving and is at his best when setting the steps for primarily new dancers.
Have to say that even though “The Producers” took all the Tonys, I much prefer “Young Frankenstein” and am eagerly awaiting “Blazing Saddles”!
“YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN The New Mel Brooks Musical” will be at the Bristol Opera House through Nov. 8. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org.