Young Frankenstein,Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks ("Puttin On the Ritz" by Irving Berlin). Directed by John Saunders. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"He vas my boyfriend."
Colin Pritchard, Laura Helm, James Benjamin Rogers, Caitlin Wilayto; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Pick a cliche - your favorite one or your least favorite one - and you'll find it joyously displayed in Mel Brooks' musical "Young Frankenstein" now playing at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY. With a cast that really gets it this show which runs a full three hours with an intermission is a laugh-out-loud riot of a musical. Directed by John Saunders at a tempo that is a killer (especially of some of the lyrics) the company of twenty-seven filling the round stage and the aisles of this classic summer theater-in-the-round deliver perfectly. The strange mind of Mel Brooks gets its just desserts here and there's little left to say about the show as a whole.
Cliches, cliches - they come at you from all sides and I can feel them straining against my fingertips, begging for release. There's another one. To work, dammit. To work! John Benjamin Rogers has been brought back to the theater to play Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounce that Fron-kin-shteen if you please). Rogers recent work at this theater was the dramatic Jean Valjean which was was brilliant and in this instance he has piled on more hair and given a virtuoso performance as the grandson of the monster-man. His comic timing is only exceeded by his superb vocalism. He makes an odd romantic figure, loved by two women, but a very real one at the same time.
Ah, l'amour. Two women love the good, and I mean very good, doctor. His fiance Elizabeth played to the comic hilt by Laura Helm and his laboratory assistant Inga played by Caitlin Wilayto. Helm's semi-heroine (she is hard to love as she loves herself too much) is a gorgeous vixen devoted to social comeuppance and society's mores. Helm puts into the character a lot more than the author allotted her and the result is a figure of fun nonpareil. Wilayto's Inga is a sex-doll with a brain, a heart and a habit of seduction that gets funnier with each attempt. Wilayto is marvelous in the role, never offensive or caricaturous.
Igor (or Eye-Gore) is beautifully portrayed by Colin Pritchard who enchants with his hysterically whimisical manner. He dances, sings, cavorts, flaunts, flashes, and flings himself about with an abandon that is rarely seen on the postage stamp stage at this theater. He is the living personification of the word outrageous and he is marvelous at it. Dan Hasty is just wonderful as The Monster, staggering, groaning, singing, dancing and making love like Clark Gable.
Monica M. Wemitt takes on the role of Frau Blucher with a dark-sided vengeance. She has never been funnier or more sensually delectable. I seem to keep saying this, this summer, but she was born to play this role and to bring to it her unique brand of comedy and music combined. Gabe Belyeu is perfect as Inspector Kemp and also as the Hermit, funnier in the latter and more human and touching in the former.
The rest of the large cast deliver with panache. The orchestra under Josh D. Smith do the same and with the fine costumes designed by Jimm Halliday, the excellent sets and lighting provided by Andrew Gmoser and the brilliant props under the control of Megan McQueeney, this show is a definite winner.
John Saunders work has never been sharper, more crisp and precise and his vision for this show has been clearly and cleanly on track. Mel Brooks humor always tends toward the lowest level of dirty joke, but Saunders has kept his company at a level considerably higher than that, so the end result is the cleanest burlesque show you are ever likely to see and the funniest one in many a year. The Mac-Haydn Company could move this show on to another professional level without a single change and that is really an accomplishment.
James Benjamin Rogers and Monica M. Wemitt; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Dan Hasty and Gabe Belyeu; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Young Frankenstein plays through August 3 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located at 1925 Route 203, Chatham, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-393-9292 or go on line to www.machaydntheatre.org.