Considering the gamut & levels of theatre that critics have the opportunity to witness, most of us 5th Estate types categorize or pigeon-hole the various genera; naturally, leeway is afforded to amateur and community ensembles. Clarkson Music Theatre’s YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN requires no such latitude…it’s as professional as any mainstream company; Shaw, CanStage & Stratford included! This musical (& very much alive) version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 movie hit is even more fun than its film original.
This is about as entertaining as theatre gets and is a personal tribute to the talents of director Bob Riddell. The attention to detail, his impeccable cast selection; the flawless crew machinations; and especially the pace & continuity makes this 3-hour performance not only fly by; it leaves the audience wishing for more! Riddell has gone for sophistication rather than pure shtick, or reliance on visual impact.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the story; in early 19th century Transylvania experimental physicist Victor Frankenstein re-creates life from some dead bodies and the result is an evil monster. F.Y.I., the story was written by a young Mary Shelley as part of a fun competition to compose a short creepy story – she won! Brooks take on this strictly an opportunity to cash in on his ‘Blazing Saddles’ success using the same motif – farce; scatology; and some socially unacceptable (for that time) habits & mores. He carried on the tale by having the grandson come from the U.S.A. to sort out the inheritance, but ends up re-creating grandpa’s research.
Version 2.0 adds almost operatic-style musical numbers. There are lyrics reminiscent of William Gilbert’s tongue-twisting poetry that contributed so much to the success of the Gilbert & Sullivan’ collaboration. The ‘Nothing Like a Brain’ number epitomizes this genus. Puns, easily recognizable and telegraphed contemporary in-jokes abound…even some of the libretti can be anticipated by an attentive audience. This adds to the fun.
Our reluctant hero – grandson Frederick (who insists the surname is Fronk N Steen so as to distance himself from his notorious ancestor) is admirably played by Darryl Burton. A wonderful singing voice, thespian talent, and a comedic sense of effective timing make him an ideal cast choice. His facial range is from A –Z and reflects all the emotions to which an evolving character traverses. We see awe, fear, lust, curiosity, and malleability as the play progresses. He’s even a talented dancer.
The love interest is Inga, the maidservant. Karen Chorney is a scene-stealing vamp who also manages to project such naiveté that she’s a sure-fire hit with the audience. Her expressive and smiling facial demeanor are coupled with a beautiful voice that convincingly sells such arias as ‘Roll in the Hay’ & especially her ‘Listen to your Heart’ number. The American fiancée is Karyn Monk and she also can ‘sell’ a song. Her ‘Please Don’t touch Me’ is a vocal as well as visual tour de force. Her sexual interaction with the monster is such a continual giggle that the dialogue gets buried.
The infamous ‘Frau Blucher’ is portrayed by Maria DePalma and although the character is supposed to be fearsome (even the horses frightfully neigh at hearing her name) DaPalma conveys the character’s positive traits and hidden affirmative agenda. We couldn’t take our eyes off her whenever she was on stage. Same with the hunchbacked Igor (pronounced Eye-gor). Steve Kirk is a hoot as he staggers about either ingratiating himself or disrupting the play’s progress. Two other major cast supporters are Rob Gorican as the Dr. Strangelove-ish Colonel Kemp and especially Reid Mowat portraying the monster. His make-up, deportment, changing demeanor and his Act II song/dance routine with Burton are as hilarious as the Gene Wilder/Peter Boyle original.
The choreography (also created by the director) is a major contributor to the success of this effort. The Act I closing chorus number ‘Transylvania Mania’ is as good as anything we’ve witnessed and the smiles projected while the dancers do their thing can only be a reflection of their knowing that something great is occurring. The costumes are detailed and both the contemporary and Swiss/German styles feel authentic.
“YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” is a sure-fire contender for our O.A.R. TOP TEN list and to paraphrase the playwright . . . “it’s alive, it’s alive” –with humour, dance; musical numbers, great acting & superb direction. Don’t miss it.
‘Fronkie’ & Company will be at the Meadowvale Theatre until Nov. 30th.
* Note: mature subject matter