First things first (I’m the realest- sorry, couldn’t resist): My review of Young Frankenstein cannot possibly be unbiased. I’m a fan of the show and made some memories watching it on Broadway, plus I’m a huge fan of Lyric Arts, and I know almost everyone involved in the production. That said, I’ll try to be as objective a critic as I can be.
Disclaimer over. Let’s get on with the review!
I saw Young Frankenstein at Lyric Arts this past Thursday, October 16th. The house was almost full, and the audience was responsive and supportive of what was happening onstage. They clearly enjoyed the show, and gave a standing ovation at curtain call.
What was there for the audience to like? Plenty. Young Frankenstein itself (based on the Mel Brooks film of the same name, and adapted for the stage by him) is a brilliantly funny piece of theatre. Brooks parodies the horror monster movie genre joyously, pulling out all the stops and taking huge risks.
Much has been said about the “big” and “risky” aspects of this show. Young Frankenstein was written specifically for a Broadway stage. The original production cost over 16 million dollars. It was designed from the beginning as a spectacle show, calling for all kinds of special effects, a big, talented cast and pit orchestra, and technical perfection. Lyric Arts has taken risks with dramatic content before, and has taken on some moderately flashy shows in the past, but never have they attempted this big a production. Under the direction of Matt McNabb, a Resident Director at Lyric Arts who closed out the last season with his production of RENT, the risk is well managed, and the production- while not as fancy as a $16 million production- is quite impressive, especially when you remember that Lyric Arts is a community theatre.
The shows I’ve seen at other community theatres in the area (Colorado as well, but that’s a totally different story) get blown out of the water by Young Frankenstein. Thank Matt McNabb and the rest of the production staff for working so hard to make this show a reality. McNabb’s blocking skillfully navigates the relatively tiny performance space (the set is super big, and takes up a great deal of playing room), taking full advantage of the set to stage complicated location transitions and big dance numbers. Music director Louis Berg-Arnold leads a pit that suffered from intonation issues on the night I attended the production, but was otherwise well practiced. Choreographer Anne Marie Omeish stages the songs with choreography that is a bit too simplistic at times, but is executed happily and well by the cast. Stage Manager Pat Campbell keeps the whole thing running smoothly with very few minute mistakes.
The designers of this production definitely leave their mark. Brian Proball’s set design is gigantic, but not overwhelming in the slightest. He makes great use of special effect apparatuses, which include an empty painting and a table with a rig that brings it up into the catwalks. The rig is ultimately very slow, but McNabb handles it well, simply adding a joke into the script about how slow it is. Lighting designer Jim Eischen seems to have programmed a million specials into the production, but if they ever pulled focus it was because they were doing really cool things. Particularly impressive is his integration of lights into the set. Windows are backlit and glowing, candles are well placed, and the big set pieces in the laboratory scenes have all kinds of winking, flickering bulbs that bring the set pieces to the next level. Sound designer Jeff Giesler might have mixed the production so that the orchestra was too loud, but he never shies away from more specific sound effects, including claps of thunder, the rickety metallic sound of Inspector Kemp moving his fake arm, and, of course, the famous horse whinnying that accompanies the name of one of the characters. Costume designer Samantha Fromm Haddow never disappoints. She created costumes that are well fitted, well suited to the production, and add to the characters’ personalities. Samantha From Haddow came up with a great makeup design for the Creature’s face and it was executed during most performances by Megan Weisenberger. Heather McLaughlin, Nate Otto, and Lea Chapaton built some killer special props, including the infamous Abby Normal brain.
Then there’s the cast. Kyler Chase plays a charming Dr. Frankenstein. His portrayal makes full use of his voice, presenting a clear tenor singing voice one minute and maniacal shouting the next. His crazed expressions and clear physical presence made him one of the funniest people onstage. Katharine Strom as Elizabeth is loud and proud, with a belt and mix voice to make anyone jealous. She was the actor who most made the character her own, with very few vestiges of the original production or movie Elizabeth’s in her performance. Nick Menzhuber is delightful as both Inspector Kemp, with the perfect accent, and movements that are appropriately jerky and artificial, and as the deceased Dr. Frankenstein, where he makes use of a big voice and a big physical presence. Brendan Veerman presents an Igor that is almost too adorable, and wonderfully sassy, with strong comedic physicality. Kate Beahen is far too young to play Frau Blücher, but is funny enough to make you forget all about that. Her voice is strong, and her eyebrow game is even stronger. Tom Goerger is physically the perfect Monster, and his darling facial expressions make you love the character a lot earlier than you’re supposed to. Brad Bone has a cameo as an old, infirm man (which he certainly is not), and returns later in the show to play a lonely hermit with a Brooklyn accent. His accent and manner of speaking as the hermit are perfect, and both roles are played so gleefully that you can’t help but love him. An ensemble standout is Ben Schrade, who managed to take a tiny cameo as a shoeshine who hates suede and turn it into the funniest and most delightfully unexpected moment of the night.
And then, to top it all off, there is Nykeigh Larson as Inga. The show I attended started out on a dour, low energy note, but as soon as she came onstage with her big voice and big smile the energy picked up and everything got brighter. Having seen Nykeigh in many prior shows, I can say that she has grown a great deal in this role. She carries herself with more sexy confidence than I’ve seen from her in the past, and one wonders how she can be so big onstage when in reality she’s such a tiny person. McNabb couldn’t have cast a better Inga, as Nykeigh nails the comedy, vocals, and energy.
All these people give their hearts and talents fully to the production, and it shows. Lyric Arts’ Young Frankenstein is charming, joyful, and impressive. The theatre has proved, once again, that a little stage fog and a lot of enthusiasm can lead to great things. You won’t want to miss this ambitious production.