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Young Frankenstein
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Choreographed by Josh Rhodes
The Muny
July 13, 2016

Cast of Young Frankenstein Photo: The Muny

Cast of Young Frankenstein
Photo: The Muny

“Fun” is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the Muny’s latest production of Young Frankenstein. Based on the classic Mel Brooks movie, this production sends up and pays homage to old-time horror films in general and the Frankenstein story in particular, with great production values and a lot of energy and humor. The well-chosen cast members seem to be having the time of their lives on stage, and that energy translates well for the audience.

Although this show is essentially the film on stage with songs added, the story is expanded upon slightly as well, and the jokes are plentiful, with an emphasis on innuendo and some physical comedy. The show has also amped up the “song and dance” elements, making the most of the musical comedy genre. The story’s central figure is Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Robert Petkoff), grandson of the infamous monster-creating Victor Frankenstein, who has recently died, leaving his Transylvanian estate to his grandson. The younger Frankenstein is a respectable scientist, insisting on pronouncing his last name “Frahnk–en-steen” so as to distance himself from a troubling family legacy. Frederick boards a ship overseas, bidding farewell to his physically averse fiancee Elizabeth (Jennifer Cody), and finally arriving in Transylvania, where he meets his assistants Igor (Steve Rosen) and Inga (Stephanie Gibson) and the mysterious housekeeper Frau Blucher (Vicki Lewis), whose name is always accompanied by the sound of horses neighing, as in the film. Although Frederick initially resists, he’s soon drawn to “Join the Family Business” (according to the song) and revisit his grandfather’s experiments with reanimating the dead. It’s an exaggerated “dark and stormy night” type of atmosphere throughout, as the suspicious villagers seek to find out Frederick’s plans, and Frederick hopes to bring to life a creature with intelligence and heart along with his giant stature and brute strength.

As a show, this production is carried by the strength of its cast and seemingly boundless energy. Everyone seems to be having a wonderful time on stage, and it shows. Although some jokes occasionally fall flat, and a few of the songs are essentially just extended gags, this production simply works. The casting is excellent, from Petkoff’s overly determined Frederick, to Rosen’s delightfully goofy Igor who interacts delightfully with his fellow actors and with the audience, to Timothy Hughes’s charming, tap-dancing Creature, to Lewis’s melodramatic Frau Blucher (cue horse sounds), to the excellent comic performances of Frederick’s competing love interests, Gibson as the enthusiastic Inga, and Cody as the overbearing Elizabeth. There’s a strong ensemble, as well, serving the production well during the group numbers, such as the Act 1 ending “Transylvania Mania” and the inventively choreographed large-scale tap performance of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz”, the only song in the production that wasn’t written by Brooks, used here ostensibly because it was in the film. Here, it’s been hammed up delightfully, filling the huge Muny stage and providing one of the highlights of this production.

The set and special effects add much to the spirit of this production. Paul Tate dePoo III’s set provides the ideal backdrop for the action, with a suitably creepy castle that rotates to display Frankenstein’s laboratory, using the Muny’s turntable to excellent effect. The costumes, originally designed by William Ivey Long with additional design and coodination by Tracy Christensen, appropriately suggest those of the film while being ideally augmented for the stage. The movie was filmed in black and white, but this production is in full color, evoking the gloominess of the Transylvania setting with excellent effect. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Rob Denton and creative video design by Matthew Young.

This isn’t an all-ages show, really. In keeping with the raunchy, innuendo-laden tone of the original film, this production is more suited for adults and older teens than for children. Young Frankenstein at the Muny is an energetic, joke-filled, hilariously hammy production. One of the best things about it is that the cast members seem to be having just as much fun presenting the show as the audience is watching it.

Timothy Hughes, Robert Petkoff Photo: The Muny

Timothy Hughes, Robert Petkoff
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Young Frankenstein in Forest Park until July 19th, 2016.

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