Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Young Frankenstein
Mercury Theater Chicago
Review by Karen Topham

Ryan Stajmiger, Andrew MacNaughton,
Sean Fortunato, Isabella Andrews,
and Mary Robin Roth

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Mercury Theater, in recent years, has become a reliable producer of musicals–both first-tier shows like the upcoming Jersey Boys and solidly entertaining versions of second-tier shows as well, as it has recently demonstrated with Rock of Ages, Big River, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, all of which have done the 111-year-old theater proud. (Originally opened the year the Titanic sank, it was renovated in 1994 and now also includes a cabaret space.) Its current production, Young Frankenstein, with a score by Mel Brooks and book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, continues the run of quality revivals that have become Mercury's bread and butter. Young Frankenstein is not intrinsically a great musical, and it feels a bit cramped on Mercury's stage, but once again the theatre company has found exactly the right cast, directors, and designers to bring out its best.

This time the director is L. Walter Stearns (Mercury's executive producer and multiple Jeff Award winner), fresh from his most recent Jeff nomination for last year's Clue. Stearns may well secure another nom for this show, as he gets amazing performances from a well-chosen cast that breathes the same high-spirited life into the musical as its titular character does with his monstrous creation. He is aided by equally awarded music director (and co-executive producer) Eugene Dizon, who always gets the best out of every voice in a cast.

The cast this time around is led by Sean Fortunato as Frederick Frankenstein–"it's pronounced fränkensteen," he complains, trying to distance himself from the outrageous behavior of his grandfather Victor (despite his research on human brains), even as he discovers that he has inherited the old man's castle. Fortunato is at once likable in a role that is simultaneously a break from the darkness of his recent excursion as Applegate (the devil) in Marriott's Damn Yankees and sort of similar. Applegate is, after all, a likable fellow with a dark side. Of course, Frederick is extremely susceptible to the kind of temptation that would make Old Scratch proud, and soon, despite himself, ends up continuing Grandpa's work.

Interestingly, the structure of this musical that centers on the grandson's grandiose ambitions makes him pretty much a straight man to several of his co-stars. Andrew MacNaughton's monster steals the scene from Victor any time they are together on stage (which may not be all that hard when you are a green-skinned compilation of various body parts who allegedly stands seven feet tall–which MacNaughton, sadly, does not, taking something away from the fear he should elicit from the various townspeople). Still, his inspired contribution to "Puttin' On The Ritz"–his own take on the number that the much more hulking Peter Boyle performed with Gene Wilder in the 1974 movie written by Mel Brooks (who also directed) and Wilder–is what makes that number pop onstage (well, that and Brenda Didier's fun choreography).

Other excellent performances include Mary Robin Roth, whose Frau Blücher goes from creepy–her very name causes horses to neigh in fear–to creepier, as she sings about the affair she once had with Victor ("He Vas My Boyfriend") complete with physical one-person re-enactments of some of its sexual aspects. Frederick's sexpot assistant Inga is played with wonderful vigor and humor by Isabella Andrews, whose "Roll in the Hay" is hilariously rife with innuendo. Igor ("that's eye-gore"), the low-IQ manservant whose hump keeps moving about his back, is embodied by Ryan Stajmiger, and he manages to make even the most hoary of Brooks' bits (like "walk this way," "there wolves," and "Abby someone"–if you don't know them, what are you even doing here?) his own. And Lillian Castro (so good in Marriott's Kiss Me, Kate) has great fun chewing the scenery as Frederick's image-obsessed fiancee and future wearer of a certain famous black-and-white hairstyle.

The set, designed by Bob Knuth, is quite good. Though similar to a lot of other Mercury sets–Clue broke that mold–it gives us an excellent castle in addition to other spaces. G. "Max" Maxin IV's lighting, also, is excellent. (Kudos to whoever found the sconces–dresser Ellen Markus?–which are awesome!) Kurt Snieckus's sound is outstanding. (Neigh!) Brenda Didier's work with the choreography, always tough on this small stage, easily distinguishes the villagers from the several other groups–, medical students, etc.–that are played by the same ensemble actors (who, it must be said, nail it.) Rachel Boylan's costumes help a lot, of course. (My husband was under the impression that there was a much larger ensemble than there actually was, which is both a tribute to Stearns and Didier's work and a recognition of the tightness of a small stage, which Stearns tries to enlarge by frequently using the side aisles.)

Whether you are a fan of Brooks' movies or just like a good time, you'll find an enjoyable evening out in this show. (I was going to add "as long as you find double entendres amusing," but then: if you don't, you cannot be a Brooks aficionado.)

Young Frankenstein runs through December 31, 2023, at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago IL> For tickets and information, please visit