Chicago Theatre Review
Not Quite a Monster of a Show
Young Frankenstein – Lake Forest Theatre
Thanks to a burning dream and a lot of hard work by managing artistic director Steve Malone, Lake Forest now has a second professional theatre. The question is can this small, yet affluent far northern suburb support two professional theatrical venues, each competing for the public’s entertainment dollar. This young company, which opened earlier this summer with “The Secret Garden,” has taken on an equally ambitious musical with Mel Brooks’ tune-filled adaptation of his own 1974 offbeat comedic horror film. The results are mixed, but encouraging.
Mel Brooks’ spoof of B-horror films opens at the gravesite of famed creature creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. His funeral is solemn and filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth until the coffin drops into the ground. Suddenly, in true Mel Brooks style, the Transylvanian townsfolk fling off their mourning garb and fill the stage with the unbridled joy of “The Happiest Town in Town.” Thomas Meehan and Mel Brooks’ second stage adaptation of one of his films (“The Producers” was their first, a multi-Tony Award-winning collaboration) isn’t quite as successful or satisfying, but still manages to offer an evening of somewhat high-spirited entertainment.
Filled with Brooks’ typical lowbrow humor, double entendres and groan-producing puns this show is not without its charm, and for devoted fans of the film the evening will be even more fun. Seeing the movie’s looney characters live on stage and the story fleshed out with over two dozen musical numbers, including an ensemble of assorted peasants, ghosts and ghouls, is fun. However, what worked so well on stage in Brooks’ “The Producers,” isn’t nearly as satisfying this time around. That show was about show business and worked well as a theatrical musical. This show is a parody of horror films and feels too long. The songs aren’t all gems (although several are funny and tuneful) and some of the jokes simply don’t have quite the impact found in his previous show. That said, this musical, which is an appropriate Halloween offering, does provide a moderately enjoyable evening for audiences who know what they’re in for and aren’t aiming too high.
Director Steven Malone has cast a talented group of non-Equity actors and, along with co-director Cameron Turner’s competent choreography and John Cockerill’s fine musical direction, has pulled off a mostly satisfactory show. The audience will appreciate the collective effort and energy of this production but, with a few exceptions, they won’t be overwhelmed. Since no one is listed as scenic designer, one can only assume Malone collaborated with master carpenter Jason Clark to devise the multiple settings necessary for this production. They’re serviceable but not particularly remarkable. David Miller’s lighting design often leaves actors in the dark, especially when downstage. David Lundholm’s costumes and presumably wig designs, however, impress the most.
In Malone’s production, which often lacks the drive and energy required to land the jokes properly, the supporting players provide the majority of the laughs and enjoyment. This begins with Christie Burgess-Martino as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s persnickety fiancee. Delightful in her musical numbers, like “Please Don’t Touch Me” and, especially, “Deep Love,” Ms. Burgess-Martino is a treat. As Frau Blucher, the role created in the film by Cloris Leachman, Gina Guarino is quite funny. The actress brings hilarity and Germanic angst into her role, especially her big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend.” Parker Guidry is hilarious and unstoppable as Igor. Whether singing and dancing up a storm, adjusting his ever-moving hump or wrestling with those giant door knockers, Guidry is an excellent comic actor with energy to spare.
Lovely Sarah Larson is good as Inga, the comely Transylvanian tootsie employed to serve as Frederick Frankenstein’s laboratory assistant. She’s sweetly spirited in such numbers as “Roll in the Hay” and “Listen to Your Heart.” Edward MacLennan is a standout as The Monster. His moments in the Hermit’s cabin, with Elizabeth and, especially, in the show’s eagerly-awaited production number, “Puttin‘ on the Ritz,” are both humorous and the show’s highlights. The role of Inspector Kemp is nicely played by an almost unrecognizable Tony Calzaretta and Steve Malone confidently steps into the role of The Hermit, with both actors displaying their comfort with physical humor. And the show’s tireless ensemble bring most of the life to this creature.
In the leading role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, son of the famed Mary Shelley protagonist, Nick Miller does pretty well in a role that made Gene Wilder a household name. However, playing a part that demands high energy, a pleasant singing voice and the ability to be both a comic character and a leading man, the actor comes off as strangely subdued. Performing in a company rife with comedians, Miller often fades into the background. Where Miller does excel is in his singing. Whether in his tongue-twisting patter song (“The Brain”), his Vaudevillian duet with Igor (“Together Again for the First Time”) or the show-stopping “Puttin‘ on the Ritz,” Mr. Miller suitably shines.
For those who enjoy their humor bawdy and less sophisticated, but demand energetic performances, interesting production numbers and an earnest company of singers and dancers, here’s a show they may enjoy. Although choosing less demanding musicals might be a wiser choice for this theatre, at least until the company has the funds and talent required for splashier productions, this show is an admirable attempt to dazzle. Patrons for whom the name Mel Brooks is synonymous with humor, and who are looking for a good time, might consider heading up to Lake Forest for some adult fun that’s a Roll in the Hay.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 7-30 by the Lake Forest Theatre, 400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office or by going to www.lakeforesttheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.