Mel Brooks has been a powerhouse in comedy for over half a century. His career has spanned radio shows, television, and film. One of his hits on film was Young Frankenstein, which he penned along with Gene Wilder as a successful movie released in 1974. Brooks has said Young Frankenstein may be the best movie he ever made, and in 2006, he wrote the stage adaptation as well as the music and lyrics for the musical version currently playing at Allen’s Community Theatre (ACT).
In classic Mel Brooks style, the performances at ACT are not to be taken too seriously. The antics of the actors, the sometimes raunchy lines, and the fabulously light-hearted musical score all work together to create an evening of fun with very little thought required. Among the selections available during this time of year, Young Frankenstein proves to be perhaps the most fun.
Allen’s Community Theatre is a small performance venue with a proscenium stage and intimate seating. Very little room is available for the set. Set designer Robert Clark utilized clever set pieces that served multiple purposes. These, along with dedicated stage crew swiftly accomplishing scene changes, provided a somewhat realistic backdrop for the action on stage. One of my favorite examples of this is the use of a screen which projected various videos throughout the play. At one point, this screen transcended its confines as a video of a picture of Victor von Frankenstein came to life, issuing forth smoke which carried through with perfect timing outside of the screen with fog as Randy Sandifer, in the role of Victor, stepped onto the stage. One curious decision was to create a caricature of a bookcase which had one shelf that was realistic. I couldn’t find a reason for not creating a full bookshelf, other than possibly to reduce the number of props that would have to be affixed whilst the bookcase spun.
Costume design by Lindsey Humphries was adequate to portray the time period and situations. The occasional oddity, such as the use of graduation gowns in some scenes and a confusing array of gray hair and white nets on townspeople during the dream sequence was a little distracting, but overall did not detract from the experience.
Choreography by Becca Tischer was well-planned, although the small stage and large ensemble sometimes made it difficult to tell whether the actors were unsure of their choreography or whether it was just the chaos of too many people smashed into a small stage creating the effect of mismatched steps.
One troubling aspect of the performance was the frequency of singers stumbling to find their first notes and lacking confidence in their delivery. This most often occurred in ensemble pieces, however. The principal performers had much stronger vocals.
Several of the actors clearly took the time to develop their characters and standout performances deserve mention. One of my favorite scenes involved an ensemble actor. Martin Mussey, portraying the blind hermit, offered a hilarious performance with the monster. His blind eyes never found their mark and the laughter from the audience abounded during his performance. In the number “Please Send Me Someone”, Mussey revealed his vocal talents with Brooks’ well-written comedic lyrics.
The most solid performance of the evening was that of Audie Preston in the role of Igor (that’s pronounced eye-gor). As the faithful sidekick of Dr. Frankenstein, Preston’s every movement, eye roll, and deftly delivered line was enjoyable to watch. Every time Preston was on stage, which was often, his delivery was exactly what it needed to be for the role.
Kenneth Fulenwider offered a spot-on performance as the guttural monster. With only grunts and facial expressions, masked by heavy makeup, to portray his character, Fulenwider expertly handled each scene, which made the transformation to intelligent man even more delightful to witness.
Another favorite scene involved Frederick, played by Eddy Herring, and Inga, portrayed by Alden Price. Their hay wagon ride offered hilarious innuendo, all while Inga belted out the strongest vocals of the evening in the song, “Roll in the Hay.”
Herring offered a solid performance as the young Doctor Frankenstein. His comedic timing was impeccable. Price was a perfectly cast complement to Herring’s droll tone, with her “girl next door” looks and charming smile.
Hats off to director, Jennifer Stephens Stubbs for her ability to bring together a cast that was so well matched to their roles. Another example was the role of Elizabeth, which was believably portrayed by Laura Jennings. Jennings strutted across the stage with flirty eyes and upturned nose to portray the haughty fiancé of Frederick. As was often the case with the musical score, the expertly written lyrics and musical score of Brooks shone through Jennings’ performance of “Deep Love.”
Combining Mel Brooks’ talent and experience with raw comedy with the efforts of the director, actors, and crew at Allen’s Community Theatre resulted in a performance that can’t take itself too seriously, but provided great laughter and an enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Reviewed Performance: 10/13/2017