reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier
Last evening, Mrs. K and I made our first foray to the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre to see their 2016-17 season opener – Mel Brook’s musical version of Young Frankenstein. First of all, I would like to note what a tremendous facility the Civic has in Carmel. Featuring an unbelievably large stage, superb technical fixtures, and spacious and comfortable audience seating, one expects a Broadway caliber show just by entering the premises. And that is exactly what we got!
So, for those of you who have not seen or heard of this show (I imagine that is not very many of my readers!), Young Frankenstein – the 2007 musical version – is based on the eponymous 1974 film. This was Mel Brook’s parody of the horror genre as only Mr. Brooks can render, full of schtick and what the New York Times, in it’s review of the original show, identified as a “giggly smuttiness”. For those who loved the film, nearly all the laughable bits are intact – the huge knockers, the whinnying horses, the moveable hump, and the Inspector’s mechanical arm, to name but a few.
Civic’s production, directed by Michael Lasley, with choreography and musical staging by Anne Nicole Beck, and musical direction by Brent Marty, appears to be based on the Broadway blueprint. Included are many technical aspects borrowed, literally and physically, from the touring production. This is a wonderful asset to the show as we are treated to some astonishing scenic properties, as well as many amazingly impressive musical numbers. These include several showstoppers – “Family Business”, featuring a 25 foot puppet of the monster; “He Vas My Boyfriend”, Frau Blücher’s (cue the horse whinnies) stylized lament; and, of course, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, done in a much expanded version compared to the film.
From left – Nathalie Cruz (Elizabeth) and Vickie Cornelius Phipps (Frau Blücher), and B.J.Bovin (The Monster) and Steve Kruze (Frederick) in scenes from Civic Theatre’s production of “Young Frankenstein”
But what all these great technical facets actually do is lend support to the truly outstanding work of the cast. From top to bottom – everyone gives their all in this production. Steve Kruze takes the role of Frederick Frankenstein and runs with it. Never trying to duplicate the late Gene Wilder’s impressive portrayal, Kruze sets his own course and, with an energetic and dynamically voiced performance, makes the Doctor very much his own creation. Sharing the stage with him are: Damon Clevenger – lively and witty as the be-humped Igor; Devan Mathias – captivating as a beguiling Inga; Vickie Cornelius Phipps – catching and delivering all the clever nuance of the mysterious Frau Blücher (distant horse whinnies); Nathalie Cruz – beautifully voicing the part of the spunky and self-involved Elizabeth, the Doctor’s fiancé (and The Monster’s future mistress); and B.J.Bovin – in a simply spot-on appearance, grunting, singing and dancing his way into our hearts as The Monster. (Another technical achievement needs to be mentioned here – David Schlatter’s prosthetic design for The Monster’s head and face is an impressive accomplishment!) Likewise, Parrish Williams did a noteworthy job with both his roles – Inspector Kemp and the Hermit, and Evan Wallace vigorously led us through one of the production’s show-stopping numbers as Frederick’s grandfather Victor.
It would be my misgiving to not give mention to the wonderful work of the 14 member ensemble. They filled the stage with their voices and their footwork. All the impressive, big musical numbers would not have been so notable without their contributions. Believe me – this group of performers are kept very busy!
I cannot finish without a nod to the great sounding pit orchestra, led by Trevor Fanning. We often forget their work in preparing for a show of this size. Their input was extremely important to the success of this show and they did an outstanding job.
I think it may also be of note that this performance was done before a rather quiet audience. I could go on for several paragraphs about audiences and their contribution to what happens on stage – but let me just say that I noticed how there were moments that fell flat, some of the many Brooksian schtick moments in particular, that were no fault of the people onstage. They were working – and the audience was indeed listening, as evidenced by the standing ovation at the end – but sometimes Saturday night audiences can be quite restful, and this seemed to be one of that ilk. So I salute these performers, who gave great and energetic performances without very much energy being returned to them from the seats.
Bottom-line: Outstanding vocal talents, impressive dance abilities and great technical aspects make this retelling of a familiar story fun and satisfying. For any Mel Brooks fan, this is a “must see” production!
Young Frankenstein continues at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through November 5th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .
– Photos by Aren Straiger