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Beck Center’s production of ‘Young Frankenstein’ is frightfully good

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The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein

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Everything about the Beck Center for the Arts production of “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” is big (title notwithstanding). One might even say it is monstrous…so one will not say that. “The Monster” is quite large (7’ tall). The sets are huge and varied (there are over a dozen distinct looks). The costuming is extravagant and accurate. The Big Broadway style production numbers fill the theater with sight and sound. The twenty six members of the cast put on an enthusiastic and fun show with great acting, singing, dancing and comedy. Fact is… this is something one would expect to see downtown at PlayhouseSquare with this same cast (it did play the Palace with the New York touring company in October of 2009).

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“Young Frankenstein” started out as the hit movie in 1974 with screen story and screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks. It was then turned into a Broadway Musical. On November 8, 2007 it hit Broadway for 30 previews and 484 performances where it garnered three Tony Award nominations, four Drama Desk Award nominations, five Outer Critics Awards nominations (it won one for best musical), two Drama League Award nominations, a Grammy Award nomination and five Broadway.com Audience Award nominations (it won all five for Favorite New Broadway Musical, Favorite Leading Actor, Favorite Featured Actor, Favorite Featured Actress and Favorite Onstage Pair). The show’s book is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with lyrics and music by Mel Brooks.

The show begins with the villagers of 1934 Transylvania Heights celebrating by singing, “The Happiest Town” during the burial of Dr. Victor von Frankenstein whose monstrous creations have ravaged the area for years. Inspector Kemp (who has a wooden right arm and left leg from a past run in with one of Frankenstein’s creatures) informs the villagers that they may not yet be safe. The mad doctor has a grandson, Frederick, who is the dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York City.

Frederick who pronounces his name “Fronkensteen” in order to distance himself from his family’s past gives a lecture to his class on the function of reflexive and responsive brain activity while singing praises to “The Brain”. Frederick learns of his grandfather’s death and in order to settle the estate says goodbye to his “untouchable” girl friend/fiancé, Elizabeth, “Please Don’t Touch Me” and travels to the village. There he meets Igor (who pronounces it “Eye-gore” when learning of the Fronkensteen name change) and his new lovely lab assistant, Inga who shows her lustful ways with the song “Roll in the Hay”. At the castle Frederick and Inga meet Frau Blucher who was Frederick’s grandfather’s former lab assistant.

As he settles in that night with a book, Frederick dreams of his Transylvanian family “Join the Family Business”. Afterwards, he and Inga follow the sounds of a haunting violin piece past a hidden bookcase entrance to the secret laboratory below the castle. There they meet up with Igor and Frau Blucher who admits of her love for Victor “He Vas My Boyfriend”. Finding his grandfather’s book on the process of reanimating life Frederick decides to try his hand at it.

Meanwhile in the town hall a law is passed making monster creating (that results in death or injury) a capital offense while Igor and Frederick wheel a freshly dug body past the front of the town hall. Back at the castle the quartet works to bring the corpse back to life using an abnormal brain (or as Igor puts it “Abby somebody…Abby Normal, I think”. The town’s people arrive to “welcome” Frederick. The monster begins to moan and Igor grabs a squeeze box for “Transylvania Mania”. The monster is released by Frau Blucherand crashes through the castle doorway. The first act ends as the monster leaves the stage and charges up the aisle past the audience.

The second act starts with the villagers scouring the countryside for the monster “He’s Loose”. Back at the laboratory, Inga tries to comfort Frederick, “Listen to Your Heart” and they end up together on the laboratory table that has been raised up to the rafters. Elizabeth suddenly appears, “Surprise” as pieces of unmentionables float down from above as Frau Blucher and Igor try to snatch and hide them.

In a remote hut in the forest a lonely blind hermit wishes for a friend “Please send Me Someone”. The monster appears by knocking down the door. The hermit offers him soup (which he pours on the monster’s lap) and a cigar as he sets the monster’s thumb on fire. The monster screams and runs off leaving the hermit alone once more. Frederick and crew manage to capture the monster and secretly get him back to the castle dungeon where Frederick has himself locked in with the monster. Frederick manages to convince the monster of his self worth and plans a demonstration of the new “improved” monster’s abilities.

The entire town is assembled at the village theater as Frederick and the monster perform (Puttin’ On the Ritz”. A malfunctioning exploding stage light sends the monster once more into a rage and he runs off stage taking Elizabeth with him. They end up in a cave where the monster “has his way” with Elizabeth (“Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life at Last I found Youuuuuu!” and who afterwards sings “Deep Love” with a new “Bride of Frankenstein” hairdo. Frederick has Frau Blucher lure the monster back with the violin and they prepare a “brain transference” as the village mob storms the castle. The transference is completed but it appears that the monster is dead (Inspector Kemp checks for a pulse with his wooden hand). Frederick is taken to the town square and hung (since Elizabeth is still missing). The monster appears and with his newly acquired brilliant mind brings Frederick back to life. Elizabeth reappears and is reunited with the monster “Deep Love (Reprise)” as Frederick lies in Inga’s arms. The villagers fill the stage and everyone sings the Finale.

What makes this show such a delight is the attention to detail in regards to the original movie. All the puns and gags are firmly in place with flawless comedic timing. There is the Frau Blucher and horse gag, the wild ride in the wagon from the train station, “Werewolf , There Wolf”, the hermit, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and etc. Scene transitions are swift and expertly done sometimes within scant seconds of blackout. The nineteen piece orchestra is superbly suited for the task and the talented cast performs wonderfully. In the end, the SRO crowd showered praises on the cast with a standing ovation as well as cheering. It was well deserved.

Of special note is Jamie Koeth* as Frederick Frankenstein who plays the part straight without overdoing it. Lindsey Mitchell* as the “Don’t Touch Me” Elizabeth is a hoot and has a great voice to boot. Alex Smith as Igor does a super job with the moving hump gag and does fantastic mugging with his rubber like face to the audience. Amiee Collier as Frau Blucher nails the role with accent and attitude. She is the glue that holds the comedy together. Mark Heffernan as the Hermit delights in his stumbling way of trying to serve his new guest and John Busser as Inspector Kemp has the role down pat in spite of a sound mis-cue for his ratchet arm but manages a brilliant ad-lib. Lastly, there is Christopher Aldrich as “The Monster” who at 6’5” plus a 5” shoe extensions has him towering over the rest of the cast. He acts, he dances (soft shoe) and at the end he sings remarkably well (Christopher studied Opera at the University of Akron).

Prude Alert: Due to the adult nature of the show I would to give this performance a PG-13 rating. There are a lot of sexual innuendos, low cut blouses and “flagrante delicto”. Young children and adults sensitive to such goings on might wish to avoid this one.

Beefs and Flubs: Seeing as how it was opening night, there are the usual amount of gaffs and goofs. Most notable was a problem with the revolving book shelf and the miscued ratchet sound for Inspector Kemp’s arm (which he saved brilliantly). While none of Mel Brooks’s songs are notable, the energy with which they are delivered more than makes up for this flaw.

Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” now playing at the Beck Center for the Arts is a wonderful surprise. It is a highly ambitious project that squeezes out every inch of stage area as well as every ounce of craft from a very talented cast. This looks to be a monster hit for the Beck.

The Cast

John Busser as Inspector Kemp, Jamie Koeth* as Frederick Frankenstein, Lindsey Mitchell* as Elizabeth, Alex Smith as Igor, Leslie Andrews as Inga, Amiee Collier as Frau Blucher, Mark Heffernan as Victor/Mermit and Christopher Aldrich as The Monster.

The Ensembles

Patrick Carroll, Joe Fornadel, Andrew Kotzen, David Lenahan, Robert Pierce, Andrew Rawlings, Adam Shimko, Cody Zak, Megan Brautigam, Barb Dragony, Becca Frick, Llenelle Gibson, Stephanie Harden, Holly Kay Harris, Kate Leigh Michalski, Callee Miles Elise Pakiela and Carleigh Spence

The Crew

Directed by Scott Spence, Musical Direction by Larry Goodpaster, Choreography by Martin Céspedes**, Scenic Designer, Cameron Caley Michalak, Lighting Design, Tradd A. Burns, Costume Designer, Aimee Kluiber, Stage Managing, Libby White, Sound Design, Carlton Guc, Video Designer, Ian Hinz and Technical Director, Joseph Carmola

*Actor appears courtesy of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the union of American actors and stage managers

**Member of the Society of Stage Direction and Choreographers

Tickets are $29 for adults, $26 for seniors (65 and older), and $12 for students with a valid I.D. A $3 service fee per ticket will be applied at time of purchase.

Group discounts are available for parties of four or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call Customer Service at 216.521.2540, x10.

Beck Center for the Arts is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.

This production of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI), sponsored by the John P. Murphy Foundation and Ulmer & Berne LLP, and is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the Ohio Arts Council.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Beck Center for the Arts is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization that offers professional theater productions on two stages, arts education programming for all ages and abilities, including Creative Arts Therapies for individuals with special needs, outreach education, and free gallery exhibits

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