Brian Jacobson

A very subdued “Young Frankenstein”

By - Nov 3rd, 2010 06:29 am

Synthia Link, Christopher Ryan and Cory English. All Photos by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Marcus Center and the production.

I call it the “little old lady” factor. Surrounded by theater-going folk nearly twice my age, by the time curtain call for Young Frankenstein comes they are on their feet and clapping for a marvelous night of entertainment. Still, I refused until everyone else followed suit out of civility.

Simply put, the show wasn’t what I expected.

Preston Truman Boyd as the Monster and Christopher Ryan as Frederick Frankenstein.

This isn’t only an argument of beloved classic movie vs. later stage adaptation — that is a factor, but not the only problem with this touring production taken from the commercially-successful Broadway run of Mel Brooks’s well-known satirical and bawdy comedy.

The problem here is a youthful cast that’s not quite at full capacity, stage direction that falls over itself just to keep moving at all times, and a driving force by Susan Strohman and Brooks to give every good comic line from the original story by Gene Wilder (and Brooks) into a showstopping number.

In this last factor, it’s funny when it’s “Roll in the Hay” sung with a fine, adept performance from standout Synthia Link as Inga. It’s okay when it’s Frau Blücher (Joanna Glushak) expanding the line “He Vas My Boyfriend”. It’s flat with the misplaced “Please Don’t Touch Me” featuring a flamboyant interpretation of Elisabeth (Janine Divita) that makes you miss the understated depth of Madeline Kahn.

Cory English as Igor.

But it’s the original and unnecessary numbers like “Join the Family Business” and “Surprise” that made you wonder if extrication of a musical number every few minutes would have benefited the ability of the actors to not  garble their lines. In this regard, it was fine to let Igor (Cory English, playing it very different from Marty Feldman’s take) chew the scenery.

It’s perhaps to the actors’ credit that they went a different way in realizing their roles, but I don’t have the original Broadway cast of Roger Bart, Megan Mullaly, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Andrea Martin to hold this production up against.

The current cast, which includes Christopher Ryan as Frederick Frankenstein and Preston Truman Boyd as the Monster, do okay in their versions, but they aren’t as charming as you want them to be.

Highlights from the show include an expanded and creative showstopper based on the “Putting on the Ritz” section of the story and “Deep Love,” a number between Elisabeth and the Monster that includes a lot of large endowment humor.

There’s ample boobs and enormous schwanzstucker humor to go around, yet the racier Mel Brooks style of humor has been subdued. This makes the curtain-call song joke about Blazing Saddles being next highly doubtful — unless someone had the daring sense to leave every last nasty and ribald bit up there under the footlights.

What is missing here is the gentle nature of the film. On screen, lines are delivered with a gravitas and double-take done in close up that is near-impossible on the stage. For those who loved the movie, watching the musical can become a game of “listen for the famous line.” For those in the audience mostly familiar with the 1931 movie version, this was probably a funny farce full of energy and throwaway lines.

The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein continues its run at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts as the beginning of the 2010-2011 Broadway at the Marcus Center series now until Nov. 7. Tickets are available at the box office, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online here.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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