Mel Brooks’ naughty new musical Young Frankenstein, set in 1934 in Transylvania and (briefly) in New York City, is yet another monster hit for the Durham Performing Arts Center, where it concludes its warmly applauded six-day run on Sunday, Dec. 12th. This outrageously over-the-top big-screen comedy-turned-stage musical savagely satirizes the now-familiar Frankenstein story, first told in Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic horror novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) and subsequently retold in countless celluloid versions, most of them cheesier than the whole State of Wisconsin.
The current NETworks Presentations, LLC national tour of Young Frankenstein, staged at a gallop by the 2007-09 Broadway show’s effervescent director and choreographer Susan Stroman, roared into Durham on Tuesday with a crackerjack cast and first-rate production values, because the Broadway design team of Robin Wagner (sets), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting), native North Carolinian William Ivey Long (costumes), Jonathan Deans (sound), Paul Huntley (hair and wigs), and Angelina Avallone (make-up) reprised their roles for this tour. So, between the designers and the touring cast, there were enough onstage pyrotechnics for a small-town Fourth of July.
Christopher Ryan is a pip Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (that’s “frahnk-en-steen”), an effete anatomy professor from the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York City. The snooty Dr. Frankenstein openly disdains the monster-making at the family castle in Transylvania Heights by his grandfather Dr. Victor von Frankenstein (a colorful cameo by Eric R. Walck) until he arrives at the castle and — like his mad=-scientist forebear — becomes obsessed with the possibility of reanimating dead body parts.
Cory English is hilarious as Dr. Frankenstein’s humpbacked sidekick Igor (that’s “eye-gore”), whose hump shifts from side to side, from scene to scene; and Synthia Link and especially Janine Divita are a scream as Dr. Frankenstein’s buxom blond hot-to-trot laboratory assistant Inga (“Listen to Your Heart”) and his fickle, seemingly frigid fiancée Elizabeth Benning (“Please Don’t Touch Me”), who knows how to get Frederick’s pulse racing — and then she sends him home to take a cold shower.
Preston Truman Boyd adds a creepy but endearing characterization as the inarticulate man-made Monster, who terrorizes Transylvania. His general clumsiness and obvious discomfort in top hat and tails helps make the show’s rococo rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” a showstopper.
As Dr. Frankenstein’s sinister housekeeper Frau Blücher (whose very name, spoken aloud, spooks every horse in earshot), Joanna Glushak seems to be channeling Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in the film version of Rebecca. Her glares get guffaws.
David Benoit is likewise excellent as he creates two unforgettable characters: the glowering police Inspector Kemp (as in limp), with his wooden right arm and wooden left leg, and the positively beaming blind Harold the Hermit, who unwittingly befriends the fleeing Monster and nearly kills him with kindness.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: The musical version of Young Frankenstein is a saucy S-E-X comedy. It is not Blazing Saddles crude, and there is no campfire scene with an epic cowboy crepitation contest — just a lot of risqué references to the male and female anatomy and a few amorous embraces that would be tame even for network television. If Young Frankenstein were a motion picture, it would probably be rated PG-13, so leave younger children and prudish friends and family at home. You’ll be glad you did.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 10th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2010/12/10/when-is-good-good-enough-dpacs-young-frankenstein-and-tips-a-christmas-carol; Dec. 9th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/122010/YoungFrank.html; Dec. 9th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/09/851269/bawdy-frankenstein-full-of-fun.html and Dec. 5th preview by Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/05/841471/now-this-is-a-monster-hit.html; Dec. 9th Triangle Arts & Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/12/dpacs-young-frankenstein-a-holiday-show-for-the-adults/; and Dec. 7th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/10583392/article–Young-Frankenstein–over-the-top?instance=main_article (Note: You must register first to read this article). (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 7th Triangle Theater Review preview, by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/12/mel-brooks-new-musical-young-frankenstein-brings-transylvania-mania-to-dpac/.)
Durham Performing Arts Center presents YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at 8 p.m. Dec. 10, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $25.75-$73, except $12 Student Rush Tickets. BOX OFFICE: DPAC Box Office: 919/680-ARTS (2787), email@example.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=54. Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000, or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1124762.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, GroupSales@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=22.
STUDY GUIDE: http://www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com/media/downloads/YoungFrankenstein-StageNotes.pdf.
SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=21. DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=26.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. Dec. 11th performance.
The Musical: http://www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com/ (official website), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=457589 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Tour: http://www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com/home/#/tour (official website).
The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Frankenstein (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072431/ (Internet Movie Database).
Mel Brooks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Brooks (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7689 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000316/ (Internet Movie Database).
The 1818 Novel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.