Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of Young Frankenstein proves you don’t have to travel to New York or even as far as DC to get your Broadway Baby fix.
Young Frankenstein seems to have been crafted with Toby’s in mind. Receiving mixed reviews when it opened on Broadway in 2007, Mel Brook’s musical adaptation of his famous 1974 movie makes for a much better show when in a smaller, more intimate space. We’re used to watching Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of the original Dr. Victor Frankenstein up close thanks to the original movie in its various video, DVD and YouTube incarnations.
Toby’s carries Mel Brooks’ humor over to the dinner buffet- who doesn’t want to try the Abby Normal Brainloaf (not to worry, it’s a rather tasty meatloaf. ) As is traditional at Toby’s, veteran schmoozer Robert Biederman 125 does the pre-show, dispensing advice about exits and birthday announcements like the pro he is. He’s hysterical. I swear, the man could do fifteen minutes on where the bathrooms are alone; if Toby’s ever wants a slam dunk evening they could just put him on stage for two hours and let him wing it. I’d go.
The show starts to crank even before anyone steps on stage- I found the sounds of the live orchestra warming up mingled with the delightfully gloomy scent of fog machines a fitting mood enhancer. Think you’re in Columbia, Md? Nope, it’s off to Transylvania we go, aided by superb 1930s era costumes, based on the original designs by William Ivey Long and coordinated by Tommy Malek. A special thumb’s up must go to Scenic and Lighting Designer David A. Hopkins, who once again overcomes the limitations of the space with some truly creative solutions: lighting is literally in a bottle with flashing Edison bulbs and glass laboratory vials that come to life just when the monster does. And properties by Amy Kaplan follow suit: yup, there are some pretty credible Crazy Scientist instruments and panels with big switches to throw and whirling gizmos to twirl around. Spooky and oh-so-nifty: vials and skulls and electricity, oh my! Visual delights everywhere.
The pace of the show never lags. Yes, the last act is still a whirlwind, and the wrapup happens way too fast to be truly satisfying, but ‘leave ’em wanting more’ has always been a Brooks tradition. The cast more than makes up for what the script lacks, in particular Jeffrey Shankle as Frederick Frankenstein, who does a scaled-down homage to Gene Wilder’s film character.
That leaves room for everyone else around to go off the tracks, most notably Alicia Osborne as Elizabeth (not a recreation of the film’s Madeline Kahn, but funny nonetheless). Frau Blucher, as played by Tess Rohan, has good comic timing but is in possession of the most difficult song of the show, “He Was My Boyfriend”; it’s written in about fifteen different octaves and alas, didn’t quite suit her voice- but honestly, I’m hard pressed to think whose voice could actually sing the thing. In the smaller role of Victor Frankenstein, appearing in a dream to exhort his grandson in the song “Join The Family Business”, Justin Calhoun fairly walks away with the show. He’s wonderfully crazed.
But by far the two most watchable actors in the show are David James as Igor and Louise Tringali as Inga. Igor’s Cockney accent, much like his hump, came and went at times, but James’ comic timing never wavered- you couldn’t help but keep your eyes peeled on him whenever he was on stage.
Tringali gets the best song in the show: “Roll In The Hay.” Sitting on the horse-drawn hay wagon with Frederick Frankenstein, with Igor in the front seat, Inga sings what, in the movie, was a one-line joke. As written by Brooks and performed by the abundantly talented Tringali, it becomes a nonstop stream of sexual innuendo and dreadful, delightful puns. The hay wagon bounces along in time to Inga’s bosoms, Frederick’s eyes follow said bosoms, Igor winks knowingly while bouncing as well, and even the horses’ ears bobble along to the rhythm. I believe the audience laughed nonstop through the entire song, and I’m certain I missed lyrics because I was laughing too much to hear them.
closes March 11, 2018
Details and tickets
Smaller roles are worth noting as well: as the Hermit, Robert Biederman 125 puts in a good double dollop of schmaltz, and as the Monster, Christopher Kabara is both mutely comic and then elegantly ascerbic once he regains the ability to speak.
And the show doesn’t lack for spectacle. The obligatory Busby Berkley-style showstopper dance number has chorines and gents in tuxedos, tapping along in huge Frankensteinian platform boots. It’s both funny and technically impressive, for it’s quite a way down if you fall off those boots.
Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick gleefully throws in some subtle jokes of his own- hmmm, is that a Michael Jackson move in “Transylvania Mania”? Mr Minnick knows how to downplay inherent flaws in material and point an audience to the good stuff, and that’s what makes a consummate showman. He’s having fun with Young Frankenstein, and you will too.
So: go already, whaddaya waiting for? The dead to come alive? Oh… right.
Young Frankenstein . Book by MEL BROOKS and THOMAS MEEHAN . Music and Lyrics by MEL BROOKS . Director/Choreographer …… Mark Minnick . Cast: Justin Calhoun, David Singleton, David Bosley-Reynolds,Gregory Banks, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Overton, Jeffrey Shankle, Robert Biedermann 125, Alicia Osborn, David James, Brook Urquhart, Louisa Tringali, Tess Rohan and Christopher Kabara as The Monster . Music Director/Orchestrations …… Ross Scott Rawlings . Scenic/Lighting Designer ….. David A. Hopkins . Sound Designer …. Corey Brown . Production Stage Manager ….Kate Wackerle . Technical Director …… Emily Thompson . Assistant Technical Director … John Pantazis . Set Construction …. David A. Hopkins, John Pantazis, Russell Sunday, Emily Thompson Costume Coordinator ….. Tommy Malek . Wig Designer …..Jayson Kueberth . Properties & Set Dressings Coordinator ….. Amy Kaplan . . Light Board Operators ….Coleen M. Foley or Heather Williams . Sound Board Operator …..John Pantazis or Emily Thompson . Running Crew …. Jacob Hale, Molly Klezer, Mikayla Kraft, Brian Wensus . WardrobeAssistant ……Mary Quinn . Monster Make-Up Design ….Roger Bennett Riggle, Helen Snell . Stage Manager: Kate Wackerle . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
Conductor/Keyboard 1….Ross Scott Rawlins, Greg Knauf, or Reenie Codelka, Keyboard 2 ……..Reenie Codelka, Ann Prizzi, Nathan Scavilla, or Emily Targonski Trumpet … Mike Barber, Frank Gorecki, or Tony Neenan Trombone … Patrick Crossland, Jay Ellis, or Dan Pedley Reeds/Woodwinds … Steve Hasser, Katie Kellert, or Charlene McDaniel Percussion ….Bob LaForce, Lucky Marino, Evander McLean, or Glenn Scimonelli Violin …Patricia Wnek
Note: May not be suitable for younger viewers, with naughty language, bad puns and sexual innuendo you can see coming a mile away. C’mon, it’s Mel Brooks.