NSMT’s fast, funny ‘Frankenstein’: ‘It’s ‘alive!’
BEVERLY – Those who thought Mel Brooks couldn’t write and stage a complete musical weren’t wrong once – when “The Producers” won a record 12 Tonys” in 2001 – they were thankfully wrong twice.
Perhaps they weren’t paying attention to many of the title tunes Brooks had composed for his feature films. Brooks followed “The Producers” with a musical based on his film “Young Frankenstein.” It wasn’t quite the hit “The Producers” was – the score lacks the same zip and wit — but it has Brooks’ zany, bawdy humor in spades, and a huge, knockout production number.
I am firmly convinced that directors who enter a project with fondness for the material at hand tend to do a better job, and in program notes director/choreographer Kevin P. Hill said the chance to first direct and choreograph the show at Theatre by the Sea left him “thrilled beyond belief.”
That shines through in the North Shore Music Theatre production of “Young Frankenstein” now at the Beverly theater through Aug. 26.
Among the touches Hill created for the Rhode Island show that have made their way north is a whole black and white atmosphere, much as Brooks created for the 1974 film, including some wonderfully wrought opening credits that mimic the classic horror movies.
When Victor von Frankenstein passes away in Transylvania, the estate passes on to grandson Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Tommy Labanaris), who reminds one and all at his prestigious NYC medical school that it’s pronounced “Frank-in-STEEN.”
He is told he must journey to Transylvania immediately to claim the estate
If this is your First time encounter with a Brooks film or musical, listen closely because the cavalcade of jokes – in this from book writers Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Britten Morello as Elizabeth Benning, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee, has promised the Good Doctor carnal wonders, but only after marriage, and that continues in the clever musical number “Please Don’t Touch Me.”
Later Benning will journey to Transylvania for more than casual contact with The Monster, which will result in the musical number “Deep Love.” A clue: She will later unveil a new hairdo akin to Elsa Lanchester’s in “The Bride of Frankenstein.”
While the success of the lead roles are important the show’s fate lies largely in some supporting turns
Brad Bradley’s “Patsy” was a hit in last season’s “Spamalot” and here he is Igor, the deformed servant of Castle Frankenstein. Think Marty Feldman and the “Walk this way” bit.
Brooks gives Igor some of the show’s best one-liners and double entendres,while the ever-changing status of his hump is one recurring joke, alongside the neighing of the horses whenever the words “Frau Blucher” are spoken.
Sandy Rosenberg as the mysterious housekeeper Frau Blucher has keen comic timing, especially at a moment at the show when the spotlight shone on her. When a sole audience member clapped, she icily commented “You are too kind.” When other audience members finally joined in, her rejoinder was “You are too late.”
It wouldn’t be a Brooks movie without a beautiful blonde somewhere, and Brooke Lacy fills the bill as the very fetching Inga, the doctor’s lab assistant who takes him for a literal “Roll in the Hay” soon after he arrives.
Brian Padgett as The Monster has done some fine comic work in past NSMT productions such as “Billy Elliot,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Music Man,” and as he has shown in the past, he is amazingly light on his feet for a big man, and Hill puts that to good use when he stages “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
It’s a number in which Dr. Frankenstein is determined to convince skeptical villages his creation is not to be feared, and it’s the gold standard for whether your “Young Framkenstein” is a success.
Just as in the film, one of the finest comic moments in movie history, the lumbering monster tap dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” alongside Labanaris as Dr. Frankenstein.
The number goes from there to choreographed comic gold, morphing into a full-scale knockout dance number where Hill and the dancers get to stretch their legs — as much as they can wearing huge platform boots a la The Monster.
Tom Gleadow has a lot of fun with Transylvanian Inspector Kemp, ever wary of another monster arising from the bowels of Castle Frankenstein.
Director Hill worked with scenic designer Kyle Dixon, lighter Jack Mehler and sound man Don Hanna to successfully re-create the creepy black-and-white atmosphere of the movie and the previous production in Rhode Island.
The skeptics were wrong not once but twice, and theater-goers can reap the benefit. “Young Frankenstein” is fast and funny, and pay attention as the jokes roll off the Brooks-Meehan assembly line because, unlike the movie, you can’t rewind this.
The North Shore Medical Center production of Mel Brooks’ “ Young Frankenstein.” Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. Directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Aug. 27. nsmt.org.