By Thompson Eskew
The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s latest production takes the reins of comedic genius Mel Brooks in the musical “Young Frankenstein,” an adaptation of his 1974 film sharing the same name.
Director Frank D. Shutts II opened LTA’s production on Saturday, but Mel Brooks originally wrote the musical interpretation of “Young Frankenstein” in 2007. LTA’s production hilariously emphasizes the various elements of mature humor that the original film only alludes to in relatively small doses.
The musical follows the narrative of the original film, set in the mid-1930s and centers around the titular Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a modern doctor who has estranged himself from the legacy of his legendary grandfather before embarking on an adventure in Transylvania.
Following young Frankenstein is an ensemble of characters both friendly and hostile, introducing themselves and their personalities to the audience through unusual musical numbers. From the loyal family Frankenstein finds in Transylvania to the superstitious villagers led by the inquisitive Inspector Hans Kemp, every joke and song lands perfectly with the audience.
“The most difficult aspect was to capture the audience’s response, because until it’s live you don’t know what the response is going to be,” Shutts said. “We’re learning the process now and the audience is loving the show, which encourages the cast to hold for laughs and perfect their timing.”
Aside from encompassing the personality of its respective singer, each musical number successfully provides the audience with irreverent humor through a healthy mix of mild indecency, physical comedy and punctual rhyme schemes.
Noah Mutterperl brings Frankenstein’s humor and musical wit to life with his stage presence. Mutterperl’s energy feeds into both his own performances as well as those of his fellow cast members when they share the spotlight, such as Joshua Redford’s Igor. The amusing camaraderie between these characters is especially prevalent in their duet “Together Again,” in which they foreshadow their dynamic of genius boss and incompetent but well-meaning underling.
Judy Lewis delivers an equally hilarious and uninhibited depiction of Frau Blücher in her standout song, “He Was My Boyfriend,” showcasing the impropriety of the old housekeeper’s youth through mature dialogue and dance moves.
Liz Colandene delivers a similarly explicit performance in her breakout song, “Please Don’t Touch Me,” preying on her fiance’s unrequited attraction toward her while subsequently denying him any physical contact.
Claire Jeffrey brings a not-so-innocent lightheartedness to the story through the antics of her portrayal of Frankenstein’s new assistant, Inga. The power of her voice and physical comedy are both made prominent by the laughter she delivers to the audience. She allows Joshua Nettinga’s portrayal of the Monster to take center stage as a physical spectacle and a musical marvel in his own right.
However, there can be no good story without conflict, and Brian Ash’s depiction of the local law officer, Inspector Hans Kemp, makes for an intriguing antagonistic force. Ash’s musical performances help the audience to better understand the motivations of his character in ways that even those familiar with the original film were not entirely aware of. The character’s ringleader-like position allows for more scenes with an ensemble of villagers, making for multiple fun musical numbers for both the cast and the audience to enjoy.
“Young Frankenstein” isn’t just meant for avid fans of Mel Brooks and his comedic works. The experience is no less enjoyable for audience members who are unfamiliar with the source material, nor would newcomers feel left out on Brooks’ style of humor.
“People who haven’t seen the movie after seeing the play say, ‘OK, I want to see the movie now,’” Shutts said. “Whether you know the movie or not, this is such a fun and uplifting show that if you don’t know it already, you’re going to love the musical and the lyrics. After that, you’re going to want to go back to the original.”
LTA’s production of “Young Frankenstein” perfectly captures the essence of Mel Brooks’ 2007 musical without any script changes, apart from two sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it lines referencing modern-day pop culture that audiences will appreciate.
“Young Frankenstein” will be performed by LTA until November 11. A special Halloween-themed show will take place on October 31, including a costume competition judged by cast members and a Halloween-themed intermission.
Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. Original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. Produced by Rachel Alberts and Russell M. Wyland. Directed by Frank D. Shutts II.
The writer is a theatre aficionado and recent graduate of Christopher Newport University.