Frightful Humor Fills Musical Frankenstein

‘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.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUnder 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”).

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUrged 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.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol IN 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!

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe 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.

'Frankenstein' Less Horror More Confusion

In the early 19th century, a young English author accepted the challenge of writing the best horror story and, in 1918, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” was published — anonymously.

Anonymously because the young author was a female — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Since that time, the tale of the young scientist who created life and reaped its fatal rewards, has been a real favorite of horror fiction fans in many genres, most especially in theater and films.

Undoubtedly the most popular (and best known) is the 1931 movie that brought stardom to Boris Karloff as “The Creature” and contained one of the best known lines of dialogue, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive.”

That version focused on the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation and was followed in 1935 by “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Both took liberties with the plot and characters. As written by Mary Shelley, the story is most closely followed in the 1994 Kenneth Branaugh film, which begins and ends in the Arctic Circle via the narrative of Capt. Robert Walton.

There have been countless movies, TV adaptations and even a musical comedy, all putting their own spins on the famous story. This is because “Frankenstein” is in the public domain. Translation: Anyone can do anything he/she wants with the characters, location and story. Sometimes, as with putting Shakespeare in modern times, this works well. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The latter is, unfortunately, true of the “world premiere” of the South Bend Civic Theatre version of “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Theatre.The production is the result of many months of work, first in a number of workshops during which interested community members read the book and discussed several aspects of content and production they felt would be best suited to telling the story and bringing it to the stage.

Frankenstein South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreTheir ideas were given to director Jim Geisel and director Terry Farren and the process continued through a stage reading and further rewriting, the result of which is on the SBCT stage through Nov.2.

Frankenstein  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThis most recent staging incorporates flowing panels, a series of platforms and a lot of wooden crates reconfigured frequently to suggest different locations. Also ghostly projections and some very thunderous sound effects.

The story is told here by the Zeklos Traveling Theatrical Troupe. With the exception of Victor (Matthew Bell) and The Creature (Phil Kwiecinski), the five troupe members (Megan  Michele, Judy Spigle, Don Elliott, Dan Slattery and Jared Windhauser) portray all the other characters with varying degrees of success.

They swoop on wearing white “Phantom”-style masks and swirling grey Greek chorus-style sheets. Nothing helps to distinguish what they are saying as they set the stage.

As the action progresses slowly, it becomes apparent that the Karloff version has gone overboard in favor of the Branaugh, adding characters from the latter that may be unfamiliar to those who only know the ’31 film.

Even if you have read the book, the action — and characters — are so muddled and most frequently unintelligible that it is most often impossible to follow.

The actors all work hard but too frequently to no avail. The action never really becomes clear and the narrative remains ponderous rather than focused.

The panels contribute somewhat to the horrific effects (think shrouds) and are used well with the projections but the sheets ultimately exacerbate the action rather than clarifying the plotline.

The lighting design by Sarah Akers does much to set the other-worldly mood and the beating heart underscores with just the right amount of Poe-etic license.

“FRANKENSTEIN or THE MODERN PROMETHEUS” plays through Nov. 2 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 North Main St. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.com