This past weekend, I got to take a trip to Transylvania Heights, courtesy of the Beck Center for the Arts Production of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Fronkensteen, oops, I mean, Frankenstein. The musical is based on the 1974 comedy film of the same name. It has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks. It seemed to make sense after the success of The Producers, created by the same team, to bring another one of Brooks’s films to the stage. Frank opened on Broadway in November 2007, to mixed reviews. Unfortunately, the show didn’t enjoy the success of The Producers, and closed after a year. That in itself is not a bad accomplishment, but just not the sensation that everyone was hoping. There were several reasons why this musical didn’t work as well. The film is a classic, and the book isn’t able to capture the cinematic joy that ensued. Also, the score is not as strong, and certainly does not contain the kick ass ensemble numbers that are needed to propel the evening into glorious success. The book doesn’t help the ensemble either, by not giving them exciting moments to explore and generate enough action. Having said that, Brooks’s fans will find a strong connection to the story, enjoying each famous punch line, as was witnessed when I attended last Saturday night. Theatre goers not familiar with the film and the style of humor, may not be impressed, but the loyal fans will eat this up. Due to the fact that this past Saturday night, during the third weekend of the run, was virtually sold out, it is obvious that word of mouth is driving sales. Which in the end, is the ultimate compliment to a production.
The plot involves the Grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, Fredrerick (Jamie Koeth*), who inherits his family’s estate in Transylvania. He leaves his fiancée Elizabeth (Lindsey Mitchell*) behind, to settle the estate. Once he arrives, he is assisted by Igor (Alex Smith), and a well-educated, um, well…, um, you get it, lab assistant Inga (Leslie Andrews), and the resident guide Frau Blucher (Amiee Collier). Haunted by ghosts of the past, he is drawn into his grandfather’s work, and as a result, all comedic hell breaks loose.
As a result of not having a Broadway budget, Artistic Director/Director Scott Spence has to come up with some creative ways to emulate the films key visual moments. Most of those clever remedies come in the use of a projection window in the upper half of the castle wall, which recreate and suggest some of the more technical and hydraulic moments of the film. And, offers a firework display that is quite orgasmic.
Christopher Aldrich as The Monster is an incredible delight. He is a spectacular big green, tap-dancing, guttural singing hot mess of fun. There is no doubt we might see him some day leading a national tour of this show. As his creator, Frederick, Koeth is burdened with the inevitable comparison to Gene Wilder, who played Frederick in the film. In this production, armed with a powerful voice, mad patter skills, and hair that got wilder (no pun intended) as the show went on, he carves out a unique frenetic descent into crazy town.
As Frau Blucher (neighing), Collier kills it. She serves up a fierce characterization, which is a deft homage to the film. Collier serves so much face, it must take her an hour to un-Blucher herself. Her formidable voice is entertaining as hell, and she brings the house down in one of the best numbers in the show, He Vas My Boyfriend. Lady power continues with the golden haired bombshell Andrews, giving Inga, a delightful roll in the hay, and a romp near a dangerous lighting rod, thank you, both to comedic delight. I don’t really know what bounced more, but I think her yodeling notes won in the end. Andrews was a delight. As Elizabeth, Mitchell enters the arena with confidence, a quirky appeal, which really works for her transformation after some Monster, and I don’t mean the drink, to hilarious results.
Smith is an absolute hoot as Igor. Flying around the stage with wild abandon, I am sure there are many requests to adopt him after the show. He has an engaging presence, fabulous timing, and works a hump like a pro. Every time he appears on stage, something delightful is going to happen. John Busser as Inspector Kemp must have a blast every performance. His character is a scream, and his timing with the infamous arm, is a treat. Very funny stuff. I could not get enough of Mark Heffernan as the Hermit. His sense of calm deliberate comedy is a gift. I will never be able to watch a waitress pour my coffee again the same way. So funny.
The Ensemble is a wall of solid beautiful vocals. Filled with energy, and working and dancing every moment they can from the score and staging. But, the one you remember is pint sized Elise Pakiela. A young lady that is a thrilling triple threat that permeates the stage. She is in the front of the group numbers, leading her colleagues with fierce confident performance heaven. It is only a matter of time for this down to earth grounded young performer. Great featured work.
The production team worked hard on this technical workout. Musical Director Larry Goodpaster turned in another suburb sounding orchestra. Martin Cespedes worked what he could with the big numbers, and created audience pleasers. One of the highlights of the show is Puttin’ on the Ritz. A fantastic dance song and dance number that starts out with Frederick and The Monster, and turns into a fantastic memorable number. Cespedes knocked the number out of the castle. Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak designed a formidable set that gave castle realness, impressive knockers, and a hide and seek bookcase. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns fired up the electrics, deftly creating lots of lightning and castle effects. Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber served up some great choices. Stage Manager Libby White called a great show. Sound Designer Carlton Guc provided balanced sound. Video Designer saved the technical day with some fun projections. And Technical Director Joseph Carmola brought all the elements together with quality.
Critically, this may not be the best constructed piece, but sometimes, it is just a blast to sit back and laugh at what makes you laugh. I know the horses on the hayride made me laugh. That is the silly stuff that will get you in the end. It did me. (Neighing) for no reason.
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$10-$29 Reserved Seating
Beck Center for the Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107