A Review of Civic’s Young Frankenstein
The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre kicked off their bigger, bolder 89th season with Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, and with a song that features the word "t*ts" fifteen times, it was definitely a bigger, bolder choice than opening a season in the safety of Rogers and Hammer-steen. (*ahem* - I meant Hammerstein). This production delivers the quotes we know and love while showcasing area talent who tirelessly spoon-feed great-big gooey-globs of bawdy entertainment.
Troy Thrash's Dr. Frankenstein (that's Franken-steen) is a loving homage to the late Gene Wilder who famously created the character in the 1974 movie of the same name. That's not to say he lifted Wilder completely from the film and plopped him on the stage; Thrash's own comic sensibilities are ever-present, his physicality has no known off-switch, and who knew the CEO of the Air Zoo could sing? Dr. Frankenstein's entourage is rounded out by his right-humped man, Igor (Dwight L. Trice Jr.), the sexy-but-smart laboratory assistant, Inga (Kris Allemang-Stahl) and the socially-strange housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Kris Naftel), who team up to help him succeed in bringing back a man from the dead. Trice, who was last seen on the Civic stage in Hands on a Hardbody, has much more, well-deserved face-time than in his debut effort. His energy equal's Thrash's which only adds to their obvious chemistry. Allemang-Stahl, who is no stranger to the Civic or to tap shoes, shines. She walks the line between bawdy and blue while managing to keep an honest innocence. Kris Naftel doesn't walk that line; she stomps, spits, and puts a cigarette out on it with an air of hilariously, endearing stiffness. Any story of Frankenstein would not be complete without The Monster, played by relative newcomer Kevin Oberthaler. Being 6'8" made him a shoo-in for the role, sure, but his subtle flips from imposing, frightening monster, to soft, charming creation, makes his performance larger than life. Rounding out the big, fun cast were Taylor Gudbrandson as Frankenstein's shallow and self-important fiance, Elizabeth Benning, Dustin Morton as the village mob's leader, Inspector Hans Kemp, and R.J. Soule as the blind, lonely Hermit, all three of whom are wonderfully talented, and perfectly cast. The chorus, who took turns playing everything from villagers, to scientists, to Frankenstein's family members were fantastic.
In a production as big as Young Frankenstein, the set is just as important a character as anyone in the cast. The show starts with the curtain up; the background a moody Transylvanian landscape, the sky awash in vibrant colors, a castle nearly in silhouette. It's framed in the foreground by a steampunk border of rusty cogs and metal switches. The marriage of the two served well to create the combination of eerie location and tongue-in-cheek whimsy of Mel Brooks. There were a few set decisions that seemed odd at times, specifically when Frankenstein locks himself in a room with the chained monster. The corners of the rooms were present, with a large gap between them. I can only assume this decision was due in no small part to backstage space restrictions, as there were several large set pieces to contend with. Furthermore, I did wish that the cart used in the "Roll in the Hay" scene was less static and used the full expanse of the stage, as it's stillness seemed to make the emptiness on either side of it noticeable. But maybe that's just me. A big round of applause for the many puppet masters back stage for flying in, clearing out, and changing wardrobe. They are often the unsung heroes of theatre. Without you, there is no show.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film and fear that having no prior knowledge will distort the show, never fear; this is a stand-alone production. It's not a series of inside jokes, yet the die-hard fans have not been left behind; every famous line is there to quote-along with.
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