Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Young Frankenstein Rises Again in Sassy Seattle Musical Theatre Staging

Also see David's review of The Tutor and Interview with Megan Hilty


Breanna Wagner, Jeremy Adams, Noah Duffy
and Ellen Dessler

When it debuted with high expectations right here in Seattle in 2007, Mel Brooks' musical version of his career best movie Young Frankenstein seemed like a pleasant but ungainly attempt to recreate the showbiz alchemy of Brooks and director choreographer Susan Stroman's mega-Tony winner The Producers, and ran just a bit over a year on Broadway before going on tour. In the first home-grown production of this show in the area since then, director/musical stager Samuel Pettit and a tireless young cast and creative technical team substitute pluck for big budget. The result is a fairly first rate production of a second-tier musical.

Brooks and Thomas Meehan adapted (but mostly outright repackaged) Brooks and Gene Wilder's screenplay which paid affectionately zany homage to the grand Universal Frankenstein saga of old, turning key lines or moments from the film into musical numbers whenever possible, and sometimes unnecessarily. Unlike the 1968 The Producers film which was a cult hit at best till Brooks and director/choreographer Susan Stroman refitted it for Broadway (and which had several musical moments in its original form), Young Frankenstein was a huge box-office success in 1974, and has had great success in its video releases. You can still laugh at the film's ghastly housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman) carrying an unlit candelabra up the stairs ("Bevare, ze stairway can be twetcherous!") whereas the same line on stage elicits a smile, no matter the skill of the actress in the role. And even Roger Bart, who stole scenes wholesale as Carman Ghia in Broadway's The Producers, couldn't fill the wingtip shoes and whimsical manner of Wilder as Fredrick Frankenstein ("That's Fronkensteen!") on stage. And the writers also saddled the character with a stiff of an establishing song ("The Brain"). It's not the first (or worst) musical to trade on fond memories of a classic film, but as written, it adds nothing new to the property.

The dauntless Pettit, however, has found a cast that is so darned winning in their own right that you'll leave the theatre with a big smile stretching across your face. Jeremy Adams cuts an attractive figure as a dapper Victor Frankenstein and has a sweet, pure vocal quality. He serves as comic grist for the mill of Noah Duffy, a sly scene-stealer as hunchbacked henchman Igor, and the two pair up on a nice establishing duet, "Together Again for the First Time." As Transylvanian medical assistant Inga, Breanna Wagner is a zaftig zinger of a song and dance gal who makes the most of "Roll in the Hay" and even more of the score's best Brooks song "Listen to your Heart." As Victor's repressed fiancée Elizabeth, Megan Tyrrell handles the role's coy campiness and lends Merman-magnitude brass to the uninspired solos Brooks crafted for the role.

Brooks' wisest move was securing the Irving Berlin classic "Puttin' on the Ritz" (as he had for the film) and, led by Adams and the droll Corey Day as Frankenstein's Monster, it morphs into a big production number which the small but fleet-footed ensemble (choreographed By Debbie Pierce) execute with admirable abandon. Ellen Dessler brings a welcome sort of "Carol Burnett Show" fervor to her Frau Blücher, and socks across "He Vas My Boyfriend." As the maimed one-armed, one-legged Inspector Kemp and in a cameo as the lonely blind Hermit, Jeffrey Spaulding gives well-modulated accounts of both roles, and even tugs at the heartstrings a bit on the Hermit's song "Looking for Someone." An ensemble probably half the size of Broadway's makes the show's other big numbers like "The Transylvania Mania" sparkle aplenty.

Musical director Justin Beal and a snappy ensemble provide strong backup to the cast's spirited vocals. Caleb Dietzel's sound and lighting design are mostly solid, and the (oddly uncredited) scenic design by director Pettit skillfully utilizes a unit set with moving scenic elements with ingenuity and dexterity. Bravo to all for serving up Brooks' half-baked brisket on as if it were a Kosher feast!

Young Frankenstein runs through April 13, 2014, at Seattle Musical Theatre, 7120 62nd Ave NE at Sandpoint. For tickets and general information visit www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org.


Photo: Debbie Pierce

- David Edward Hughes




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