IT’S ALIVE! Mel Brooks’ and the late Gene Wilder’s bold slapstick film that revised Mary Shelley’s classic now has her rolling over in her grave with the musical version of “Young Frankenstein” presented by Rockville Musical Theatre (RMT). With the book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks and original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, the musical follows the film’s screen adaptation with reckless abandon and then some. Mel Brooks has a unique talent for reanimating dramas to become exuberant comedy classics that come alive with belly laughs and terrorize our funny bones. RMT’s production is masterfully co-directed and co-choreographed by Michael Page and Colleen Prior.
…masterfully co-directed and co-choreographed by Michael Page and Colleen Prior…an unforgettable and corpse-raising romp in Transylvania.
The story begins with the Transylvanians celebrating the death of Dr. Victor Frankenstein until they are alerted of his last living relative, his grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (purposely mispronounced as Fronk-en-steen since he wants nothing to do with his family’s gruesome legacy). Frederick is played by Matt Setzer who takes the role to new levels of hilarity. His timing is impeccable and, along with his facial expressions and physical humor, he is an ideal fit for this role—not to mention his singing and dancing are par excellence. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is found alive and well, bumbling through a lecture when he is alerted by a mysterious delivery woman, played by Kathie Rogers. She states that in order to settle his inheritance of the castle and everything in it, he must travel to the town of Transylvania.
The sound and projection design was uniquely created by Matt McNevin, utilizing a large projection screen for the background and special effects such as introducing and setting the scene for the black-and-white film experience. He also lands more than a few jokes, such as mistaken title cards and a funny take on the classic “progress on a map” trope. Particularly clever is the looping animated background behind the hay cart drawn by horses that brings Frankenstein to the castle. The most effective was a background video scrolling up to make the platform appear to rise with the Frederick and the monster, played by Kirk Patton Jr., to the top of the tower. Patton is tested with his six inch lifts and shows off his talent with great timing, dancing, and singing.
Lighting Designer Christina Giles created a dark somber mood throughout, unless it was an up-tempo scene where brighter lumens were used. Lightning, flashes, and electricity sparks made for believable scenes; spotlights highlighted singers; and clever lighting covered scene changes—well done! Hats off to Set Designer Sam Mera-Cadedo who designed the trees and rock walls which, when reversed, where gray in the University scene and the laboratory. The moving bookcase was also well done thanks to the entire creative team behind the scenes whose efforts paid off many dividends. Mary Goodwin’s costumes are period and well done, from the Monster’s elevator shoes to Frankenstein’s fiancée’s smoldering red ensemble and Igor’s wandering hump— and especially the glamorous tap ensemble in “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Maureen Dawson deserves applause for her hair and makeup design, particularly the Monster’s green hue, Igor’s ghoulish and funny face, and Elizabeth’s flaming red “Bride of Frankenstein” wig.
Once in Transylvania, the craziness abounds with the meeting between Frankenstein and his grandfather’s loyal henchman, Igor, played by Sam Weich. He stole the show at times with his banter and animated comedy. As the beautiful, leggy lab assistant, Inga, Faith Wang’s powerful voice takes off in “Roll in the Hay,” and entrances in “Listen to Your Heart.” She impressively manages to power through full-throated yodeling while still physically indicating the jiggling of the hay cart. Frederic’s fiancé, Elizabeth, is played by Megan Evans as a powerful and sensual woman. She blows the roof off the theatre several times in the musical numbers like “Surprise” and “Deep Love.” As the mysterious Frau Blücher, Leigh Wirth Denker’s talent was second to none and her voice was remarkable. Even with the accent, she hit every note beautifully and with incredible range. Made up to look like a stern school marm with epic comedic timing, she also had an elegance about her.
Brian Lyons-Burke does a great job in his dual roles of the blind hermit who the monster meets when he escapes, roaming the countryside. As the clueless Inspector Kemp, he also displayed comic versatility.
The showstopper of the evening was “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” performed by Frankenstein and the monster, a funny duet which showed off both Setzer and Patton’s tap dance skills and turned into a full-cast tap-dancing bonanza, dressed to the nines in white ties and tails. There was also a gleaming cameo by Kathie Rogers as the “Shadow Tapper.”
The live orchestra is equal to any at National Theatre or the Kennedy Center. The musical director/conductor, Michelle Bruno, skillfully scintillates the score, the mood, special effects, and tomfoolery, bringing out the best in each musical ensemble number without overwhelming the singing or the audience.
This show is an unforgettable and corpse-raising romp in Transylvania. I strongly recommend this electrifying production of “Young Frankenstein.” Combining zany antics, a witty script, and high energy comedic performances, it is a great escape that will have you in stitches and scare you silly.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
“Young Frankenstein” runs through November 10-12, 2023, presented by Rockville Musical Theatre at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville, MD. 20851. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 240-314-8690, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by going online two hours or more prior to the performance.