Chicago Theatre Review
Drury Lane Theater: A Monster of a Show
Amidst lightning and thunder Mel Brooks’ spoof of B-horror films opens–where else–at the gravesite of 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 sorrow and mourning garb and fill the stage with all the color and 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, multi-Tony Award-winning collaboration) is not quite as successful or satisfying, but does offer an evening of spirited entertainment.
Filled with Brooks’ typical lowbrow humor, double entendres and groan-producing puns this show is not without its charm, and for rabid fans of the film the evening will be sheer ecstasy. Seeing the movie’s beloved characters live on stage and the story fleshed out with 18 musical numbers and an ensemble of assorted peasants, ghosts and ghouls is fun. However, what worked so well on stage in Brooks‘ “The Producers,” isn’t quite as satisfying this time around. The show feels a little 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 does provide an enjoyable evening in the theatre for audiences who know what they’re in for and aren’t aiming too high.
Director William Osetek has cast a talented group of actors and, along with choreographer Tammy Mader and Ben Johnson’s full-sounding orchestra, has pulled out all the stops, especially with the show’s demanding special effects. When the audience enters the theatre they’ll be overwhelmed by Kevin Depinet’s massive lab apparatus and machinery setting that extends out over the audience and up to the ceiling. Depinet’s technical achievement, together with Lee Fiskness’ demanding lighting design, are perhaps the stars of this show; in a close second are Maggie Hofmann and Erika Senase’s designs as co-costumers, along with Rick Jarvie’s impressive work with wigs and hair.
In Osetek’s production, the supporting players provide the majority of the laughs and sheer enjoyment, starting with the incomparable Paula Scrofano. As Frau Blucher, the role created in the film by Cloris Leachman, Ms. Scrofano is unstoppable. A mistress of the deadpan look and with shrewd comic timing and a killer voice (pouring hilarity and Germanic angst into her big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend”), this actress gets better with every role she undertakes. Jeff Dumas, so extraordinary in Oakbrook’s “The 39 Steps,” is hilarious as Igor. Whether singing and dancing up a storm, adjusting his ever-moving hump or wrestling with those giant door knockers, Dumas is a comic actor extraordinaire. Johanna McKenzie Miller surprises with her strong comic portrayal of Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee. Delighting in musical numbers like “Please Don’t Touch Me” and, especially “Deep Love,” Ms. Miller is a treat. Travis Taylor is excellent 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 hilarious and some of this production’s highlights. And in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and The Hermit, Scott Calcagno displays his expertise with physical humor.
Devin DeSantis, in the leading role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, does well in the part that made Gene Wilder a household name. In a role that demands high energy, a pleasant singing voice and the ability to be both a comic character and a leading man, the actor holds his own with a company overflowing with comic masters. Where DeSantis is particularly strong, however, is in his precise, energetic dancing. 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,” DeSantis shines.
For those who enjoy their humor bawdy and a bit less sophisticated, but still demand high energy performances, production numbers boasting a talented ensemble of singers and dancers and spectacular special effects here is a show they’ll enjoy. And for patrons for whom the name Mel Brooks is synonymous with a good time, they ought to head out to Oakbrook Terrace for some fun that’s a real “Roll in the Hay.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 23-March 16 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.drurylane.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.