Young Frankenstein, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics mostly by Mel Brooks, directed by Bert Bernardi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"This is a lot of information!"
Ryan Halsaver, Jerielle Morwitz, Daniel Dunlow, Katrina Gnatek; photo: provided
"Young Frankenstein" played for 485 official performances on Broadway (and I managed to miss all of them) between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2009 and starred Roger Bart, Christopher Fitzgerald, Sutton Foster, Megan Mullaley and Andrea Martin. It was a perfect cast from my perspective for this outrageously funny, deliciously musical comedy by a master of the form.
Now it is playing at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York, accessible to all who find Mel Brooks funny and/or a musical the perfect way to spend a summer evening. Directed by Bert Bernardi, an old-hand at putting on the ritziest of shows, the production locally is astoundingly good, a romp in the old-fashioned sense of the word and the best sung, danced and acted show on this stage in a couple of years (and they were very good years, indeed).
With mixed reviews and an outrageous top ticket price of $450 for premium seats, the show didn’t fare as well as its predecessor and I have to wonder why, based on the show now running in this region. I had a wonderful time with a funny premise and an even funnier resolution. The best Brooks joke from the film, the relationship between Frau Blucher and an off-stage horse, is still the best joke in the show, getting a reasonable laugh every time it shows up. On opening night, by the way, almost every Brooks laughline got its laugh and the rest will show up once the cast gets every bit of the show’s rhythm right. The songs are more along the lines of "Spamalot" than "The Producers" and that’s just fine as the lyrics are hilarious and sometimes the tune matches its words in prescient humor. The cast is divine in this case and the show profits from their excellent work. I would think this production could be sold out in a matter of hours once word gets out about how good it is.
Having Jerielle Morwitz back on the Barn’s stage is almost all you need to do to create a hit show there. She plays Frau Blucher with an easy frenzy, imbuing her with every heinous aspect you’d see in a darkly black-and-white horror film of the 1930s. She sings like a nacht-mare you wake from with elation. She moves sharply which works for the character of the housekeeper and she stops the show with her wonderful solo "He Vas My Boyfriend." Thank you, the Barn, for bringing her back to us.
Frederick Frankenstein is played gloriously by Daniel Dunlow. He is a remarkably romantic figure in this role and his costumes strike a chord also. Losing his hard-fought virginity near the top of Act Two is a lovely moment of comedy, both for himself and for the audience. As the two rivals for his affection both Kimberly Suskind as Elizabeth and Katrina Gnatek as Inga have an on-stage ball with their songs and their seductions. Suskind has one of the best shots with her first solo "Please Don’t Touch Me" and in the second act she slays evil with her song "Deep Love." Gnatek is richly rewarded with her "Roll in the Hay" and the very different "Listen to Your Heart."
As you may have gathered by now the show is filled with sexual references, both in the dialogue and in the songs. Raunchy as Mel Brooks’ humor can be, the show cannot touch the film for the down-low and even kids had a good time with this production.
A stand-out in the humor and singing departments is Ryan Halsaver who made his previous go on this stage, two weeks ago, into one of playing a good looking man who is just too hard to take. Here he plays Igor (eye-gore), the good doctor’s assistant. His absolutely hilarious expounding on this and that in a manner that instantly recalls and then passes-by Marty Feldman’s Igor in the film is perfectly wrought. Kenneth D’Elia makes the most of his scenes as the Hermit and his of his musical number "Please Send Me Someone." The ensemble in their many roles are splendid.
Splendid, indeed, is the word for this outing at the Theater Barn. The Phelps men, Abe and Allen E. provide a splendid set (Abe) on which to perform under the equally splendid evocative lighting (Allen). Jimmy Johansmeyer - who plays the pieced together Inspector Hans Kemp so very well - has also designed the excellent costumes for this production. The musical trio are wonderfully led by Michael McAssey and its other components, Ian Tucksmith on percussion and Roger Mason on bass, provide a masterful musical plane on which to perform.
In two hours and eighteen minutes director and choreographer Bert Bernardi leads his team of players and designers through the richly rocky Transylvanian roadways and hallways onto the highway to a successful show. He has the talent to guide them through the wide holes of character that Brooks and Meehan provide and the ability to make us love each of them, including the Monster himself, Sean Riley. Riley benefits clearly from the firm hand of Bernardi. His performance is truly stellar and is so much in check that only a fine director can be credited with making the least credible moments of the show so highly believable indeed. The two team well and the result is a wonderful, charming, silly, tuneful, "splendid" evening of theater.
Have I convinced you to buy a ticket?; well this may help. You get all of the above at the Theater Barn for less than you’d spend on a dinner at the Hot Dog Ranch in Pittsfield. If that doesn’t send you running to New Lebanon, nothing will and everything above should have already. I had one of the best times of the summer at "Young Frankenstein" and so will you.
Kimberly Suskind and Daniel Dunlow; photo: provided
Young Frankenstein runs through September 1 at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY. For information and tickets call 518-794-8989 or go on line to www.theaterbarn.com.