Review by Jack Crumley Young Frankenstein: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts
Last month, Covedale audiences watched Annie Sullivan work miracles with Helen Keller in a production that was at times intense and very emotional and moving.
Now for something completely different…
Covedale gets very silly (and very sexual) for the fall with Mel Brooks’ classic: Young Frankenstein, his brilliant 1974 spoof movie that Brooks himself adapted for Broadway in 2007. Young Frankenstein tells the story of college anatomy professor, Dr Frederick Frankenstein, travelling to Transylvania after learning of his grandfather’s passing (the infamous Victor Von Frankenstein). There, with the help of Igor, lab assistant Inga, and housekeeper Frau Blucher, Freddie fulfills his family destiny and reanimates a corpse of his own, creating a giant monster to terrorize the village. Now imagine that presented in the most ridiculous way possible, live on stage.
Praise first goes to the cast. There are going to be a lot of descriptions in this review that will come off as understatements, and calling this show “over-the-top” is the first. The only way to sell a show like this to the audience is to fully embrace the wackiness, and this cast does.
Christopher Logan Carter (Dr Frederick Frankenstein) not only has to play a role defined on film by the great Gene Wilder, but he also has to deliver spitfire words from all the songs Mel Brooks himself wrote for this stage adaptation along with all of the choreography and physical comedy. That first song, “The Brain,” sets the tone perfectly for all the work he’ll be doing the rest of the show. Performing this role Thursday through Sunday nights for the next five weeks has got to be a daunting task, but based on his performance opening night, Carter is up for it. Tyler Gau plays Igor, and again has to deal with expectations set high by another comedy legend, Marty Feldman. To his credit, Gau is not trying to do an impression of Feldman and seems to be having the most fun on stage as he both assists and vexes his master. And sings. And dances. Both men seem to have genuine chemistry and their voices work well together, especially in their song, “Together Again for the First Time.” Peter Cutler plays The Monster, a part whose workload grows as the show goes on. Cutler has to anchor one of the defining scenes in the script, the big “Puttin’ on the Ritz” song and dance number, and he killed it on opening night. By the end of that song, the audience was laughing and clapping along as The Monster evolves from stomps and grunts to stomp-y dance moves and grunt-y singing.
The women of the core group hold their own. Heather Hale brings her opera chops to the role of Inga, the up-for-anything, local gal, lab assistant. Hale’s singing skills are on full display with the yodelling she has to do in “Roll in the Hay” as she and Carter cavort around in the back of a wagon. Hale also balances playful whimsy with playful sexy, as she’s often either being grabbed or doing the grabbing herself in various scenes. Playing the–let’s say INTENSE–Frau Blucher is Lesley Hitch. She’s working on two dozen performances for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, and she plays Blucher with a healthy amount of showmanship (showwomanship?), directing half of her lines straight at the audience. Her “you’re too kind” line in Act II was so expertly delivered and timed, I’m still not sure it wasn’t an ad lib. Rachel Barkalow rounds out the main cast as Elizabeth Benning, Dr Frankenstein’s high-strung fiancee. Her voice is so well-suited to the role both in dialogue and singing. Other than The Monster, Barkalow’s Benning undergoes the biggest transformation in the show, going from sharply repressed to passionately demanding. Her “Please Don’t Touch Me” song delivered the line I heard most of the audience buzzing about during intermission: where she and the ensemble just sing “tits” like 15 times over and over again.
Young Frankenstein is a huge production. It fittingly begins with a crack of lightning and just goes song after song, and the remaining members of the cast in the ensemble are there for nearly every one. Credit to the ensemble for not only sounding great, but also bringing some talented dancing skills to the stage. The Act I song “Join the Family Business,” where the ghosts of elder Frankensteins terrorize Frederick’s dreams, is a great showcase for both.
On a technical level, Young Frankenstein must’ve been a bear. Brett Bowling’s moody set is just detailed enough, and is loaded with secret doorways, rotating pieces (you’ve got to have the bookcase scene), an elevator, and more. Wired into the set, and timed up with what I would say is the most complex scheme I’ve seen yet at the Covedale, are all the lights. This show has a ton of light and sound cues that all came off flawlessly. It’s not at all surprising to see that Technical Director Denny Reed’s program bio says he’s been in the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame for years. A handful of the sound cues are recorded, but this show also benefits from having a live band in the pit. Ron Attreau on piano conducts reeds, brass, percussion, and (of course) a violin, providing in-show sounds along with all the songs. The band never overpowered the singing and really added to the production.
In case it’s not clear, this show has a lot of adult themes. There is some occasional cursing, but more predominant are the sexual situations. Saying that the show is “sexually suggestive” is another understatement. This is a boisterous, bawdy show. There are times when characters are either having sex behind a covering or the audience is hearing them have sex off stage. It’s all for laughs, and I wouldn’t call it vulgar. It’s risque, especially for a venue like Covedale. At no point was I offended, but I wouldn’t say that this show is for kids.
Director Bob Brunner, the cast, and the crew put a lot of work into Young Frankenstein and it shows. The opening night audience laughed and clapped along because of all that hard work. If The Miracle Worker was this season’s most dramatic turn, Young Frankenstein is its most comedic.
Young Frankenstein plays Thursday through Sunday until November 12. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa