By Kyle Barr
Mel Brooks, the director and writer of some of cinema’s most beloved comedy movies, has always had something of a theatrical flair to his films. There have been musical scenes in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “History of the World Part 1” and one glorious moment in “Young Frankenstein” when Frankenstein’s monster replaces his ragged clothing for a tuxedo and top hat and stiffly tap dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
It’s no wonder then that “Young Frankenstein” works so well as a musical stage production. The characters are there, the humor is there, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is more than up to the task of adapting the musical with a performance that emphatically captures the hilarious moments of the original 1974 film.
The story, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks, follows the film very closely with only a few changes. The famous Victor Von Frankenstein, the mad scientist who created the original Frankenstein’s monster, is dead, and the villagers of Transylvania are much happier to see him gone.
While they think their troubles are over, Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Nick Masson), gets a letter that says he has inherited his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania. While he is originally staunch in refusing to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, with the help and coaxing of compatriots Igor (Andrew Murano), Inga (Sarah Jane Juliano) and Frau Blucher (Anne Marie Finnie), Frederick does indeed join the family business. It only takes a few mistakes before the monster (Ryan Nolin) is loose, and the villagers who for once thought they were free of monsters are yet again set upon by a big green menace.
Director and set designer Timothy Golebiewski skillfully leads a number of SCPA regulars along with several stage veterans making their premier at the theater. At last Sunday afternoon’s performance, all of the actors played their parts very well with several standouts.
SCPA veteran Michael Newman gives two excellent performances in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the blind hermit, while Juliano is hilarious as Inga, and her yodeling could give any clog-wearing German a run for their money.
With the passing of Gene Wilder last year still heavy on the heart, it’s hard to imagine another person portraying Frederick Frankenstein (“It’s pronounced Fronkensteen!”). However, Masson chooses to put a different spin on the iconic role to great effect. He sounds and acts much like everyone remembers their least favorite high school teacher to be, that one with the nasal voice and the rather high opinion of himself. He has a great sense for timing and his beginning song “The Brain,” about his love for the titular organ, is played up to its full bizarre and hilarious extent.
Murano as Igor (“It’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor!”) is a stand out soley for how much he seems to enjoy his role. Costume designer Ronald R. Green III does a superb job on his makeup from the character’s cloak to his deathly-white face and pointed nose.
While Igor is only the sidekick, he often steals the show with how much body language he puts into the jokes. It’s easy to see how Murano revels in the opportunity to touch the other characters in uncomfortable ways. One hilarious scene is when the character gets his hands on another’s fur cloak and chews into it and humps it like a dog.
While you originally wouldn’t expect much emoting from Frankenstein’s monster, who for most of the movie can only grunt and howl, Nolin does a great job of using his body language to effect the subtle and often confused emotions of the creature. It’s also great to see how well he transforms into an upstanding gentleman and how he affects an English accent as soon as he’s given intelligence.
The set design is particularly exceptional. Golebiewski and crew must have spent many good hours on setting up the two-tiered layout of the set, which has layers and a surprising amount of depth. It is remarkable to watch just from where different characters appear. Several of the bookcases can be spun around, which is not only used to transition from one parlor scene into a laboratory scene but is also used in one of the more famous jokes from the film where Inga and Frederick try to figure out how to use a secret door hidden in a bookcase.
The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle at the helm, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Michael Molloy on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, bring the whole show together nicely.
One thing to note is that this musical is raunchy, even more raunchy than the film on which it is based. While there are more than a few innuendos, there are many explicit references to sex and private parts, so adults may want to look up the script to the play before bringing young children along.
However, if you don’t mind a bit of sexual humor and you fondly remember the 1974 movie version, you won’t walk away disappointed. If you are looking to grab some of old monster movie nostalgia while watching something that wholly parodies those old horror conventions, you can’t get much better than SCPA’s “Young Frankenstein.”
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Young Frankenstein” through Aug. 20. Tickets are $35, adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.
All photos by Courtney Braun.