During a time filled with theatrical sequels and remakes one might walk into Mel Brooks’ musical version of Young Frankenstein and expect to see a safe homage to the beloved, and supremely silly, 1974 hit movie of the same name. Such is not the case with Other Voices Theatre’s musical production of “Young Frankenstein,” now appearing in Frederick, Maryland. While many of the favorite plot elements are retained from the movie, the musical brings even more life to the already-lively film. The show does this through means both high and low: by providing more depth to the characters and complexity to the comedy, as well providing additional silly sexually-themed antics and wordplay.
…the charisma and charm of the Other Voices actors, along with the gleefully over-the-top innuendo-filled script and lyrics, make the musical a splendidly enjoyable madcap adventure…
The story, written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, goes as follows: The year is 1934. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is a brilliant brain researcher living in New York, looking forward to marrying his fiancé. Frederick receives the sudden and unexpected news that he has inherited the estate of his famous—and for uptight scientist Frederick, supremely embarrassing—grandfather, Victor von Frankenstein. Frederick must immediately sail to Transylvania to settle the affairs. Upon his arrival his is greeted by villagers hostile to his grandfather’s work, but he is also encouraged by a few others to resume his grandfather’s research. In a dream he receives further encouragement from his ancestors, an event centered on the musical number “Join the Family Business,” a marvelously rousing song with no equivalent in the movie. Frederick, aided by a variety of kooky assistants, succeeds in creating a new monster, but also unleashes new mayhem threatening the local town as well as Frederick’s own beloved fiancé.
Thomas Bricker plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. Bricker chooses not to try to copy Gene Wilder’s portrayal either in appearance or in mannerisms, and this decision works well—he is able to embody the character in a different way that is intense and sincere, yet also endearing and comedic. His excellent tenor voice works well for the part and the many songs he sings. Shaina Freeman plays Frederick’s fiancé, Elizabeth Benning. Ms. Freeman also does well at playing a character who is difficult and repressed, yet still personable; indeed, in her signature song, “Please Don’t Touch Me,” Ms. Freeman-as-Miss Benning flamboyantly acknowledges her teasing ways and (lack of) sexual expectations.
David Chiarenza is an engaging Igor, while Jennifer Pagano is excellent as Inga, Frederick’s attractive lab assistant who has a “master’s degree in laboratory science from Heidelberg Junior College.” Ms. Pagano proves to be especially adept at using her comic faux German accent; while her accent it quite thick, her words—both spoken and sung—are readily understandable to the audience, and she well-communicates a youthful, if slightly daft, enthusiasm for Frederick and his work while also displaying wit and charm.
Particular mention must be made of Jessica Bay Graber’s portrayal of Frau Blücher. While a fairly minor character in the movie, the musical expands her role significantly. In particular, Frau Blücher sings a solo, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” in which she describes her tempestuous relationship with the elder Frankenstein. Graber does a superb job of conveying her character’s feelings in ways which are simultaneously touching, disturbing, and supremely funny, enhanced by her use of expressive mannerisms and comedic timing. Similar praise can be given to Will Heyser-Paone; as the Monster he conveys size, strength, and power, but also an unexpected measure of charisma throughout the production. The show is ably backed by a talented ensemble of actors who variously serve as local villagers, backup singers, and dancers for some of the show’s more Broadway-style numbers.
The production is directed by Susan Thornton, with music direction by Jonas Dawson and choreography by Donna B. Grimm. The set design and lighting (by Lee Hebb and Steve Knapp, respectively) appear to be fairly simple but quite effective. The large laboratory equipment and oversized knife switches are suitably evocative of mid-1930’s era monster movies, though a few smaller pieces appear decidedly modern. The show uses recorded music with live vocals; the overall sound quality is generally good, with both speech and witty lyrics easily understandable.
This reviewer strongly recommends Other Voices’ Young Frankenstein. The story successfully expands on many of the 1974 movie’s most memorable segments, while also providing greater comic insight into to backstories of the various characters and situations. A huge measure of the credit must also go to the actors and the direction found in this particular production; their comic timing, along with their ability to make preposterous situations somehow believable, contribute greatly to the success of the show.
The “Young Frankenstein” musical also provides an unexpected but effective refocusing of the humor driving the production. The original 1974 movie is a fish-out-of-water story of the young Dr. Frankenstein dealing with unfamiliar situations in Transylvania. The musical, with its greater emphasis on characterization, makes the humor more transgressive, perhaps even with a slight Quentin Tarantino-esque edge. This change is arguably well-deserved, given the ultimate transgression of the original gothic Frankenstein story of Mary Shelly—using science and technology to bring the dead back to life! However the charisma and charm of the Other Voices actors, along with the gleefully over-the-top innuendo-filled script and lyrics, make the musical a splendidly enjoyable madcap adventure. Simply put, the audience loved it, attested to by frequent audience laughter during the show and by a standing ovation with multiple curtain calls at the end of the show.
Running Time: About 2 ½ hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Significant use of strong language and sexual themes; not recommended for children under the age of the 13. Artificial mist and mild stroboscopic lighting effects are used at times during the show.
“Young Frankenstein” runs through August 11, 2019 at Other Voices Theatre, located at the Performing Arts Factory, 244B South Jefferson Street, Frederick, Maryland 21701. For more information click here.