Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Original Direction & Choreography by Susan Stroman
Direction and choreography by Kevin P. Hill
Musical direction by Milton Granger
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Beverly, MA) Sometimes, you know you’re in for a great night of theater with the very first line of a play; with Young Frankenstein, playing at the North Shore Music Theatre, you know it before the play even starts. Even the pre-play announcements and opening credits, told by a disembodied voice and projected onto a grey shroud, suck you into the campy, spooky, sexy world that Mel Brooks creates.
It’s a rollicking, sinfully fun downhill hayride from there. The play, based on the cinematic parody of the Frankenstein movie series, never lets up on gags and sexual innuendo and is exhaustingly funny. This production is full of life, with some of most complex and successful staging seen yet at the North Shore Music Theatre and a cast crackling with energy as if it were shooting from their fingertips. Director Kevin P. Hill does an excellent job embracing the full-on camp of the production and emboldening his cast to do what’s ridiculous; occasionally, he fails at his job as traffic cop and there is dead space on stage, but never when it really counts, as the intricate musical numbers, also overseen by musical director Milton Granger, never miss a step. Brooks is an unappreciated musical composer when it comes to razz-a-ma-taz show tunes, and each number threatens to wake the dead with joyous, belting crescendos.
For those who haven’t lived, a brief summary: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Tommy Labanaris), a distant heir to the Frankenstein legacy and an anatomy professor, learns of his grandfather’s passing and comes to close out his affairs in Transylvania. There, he is lured to embrace the family business and reanimate a dead corpse. A lot of sex and show tunes ensue.
Labanaris and Brad Bradley, who plays Igor, both must overcome iconic screen performances by, respectively, Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. With the very first line Labanaris spoke, my heart instantly began to miss Wilder’s screen performance; by the third of fourth line, however, I knew Labanaris was up to the task and told my heart to shut up and watch the movie version on Netflix. Bradley isn’t quite as successful at helping me forget Feldman’s performance, but he did well enough that whenever there was an unintentional lull on stage my eyes searched for him to see his improvisations.
This is a thankless play for women, with two playing the sexy somethings for the male leads and one playing the undesirable, but each actress did admirably with the limited range of character given. Of the three female leads, Sandy Rosenberg wrings the most laughs with great comedic timing as the stern Frau Blucher, while Brittney Morello commands the stage when she sings as she plays Elizabeth, Frederick’s Miss Wrong of a fiancee.
This play is a campy delight for adults, but it may be a bit awkward to bring the little ones, as crotches are one of the most used props for actors to wield or discuss on stage. It should be noted, also, that while it was handled well, the (spoiler) final hookup between Elizabeth and the titular monster treads very dangerously on the rape fantasy line, so trigger warning there. With that out of the way, if you like your plays ridiculous and bawdy, then run, walk, or lurch your way to catch it in its final weekend, seek out another good production, or demand that North Shore Music Theatre raise it from the dead.
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Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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