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Monster in the Grove

Cast captures spirit of the 1974 classic film for a wild, wacky evening


A darkened stage — lights come up on two giant (dare we say “magnificent”) knockers at Theatre in the Grove’s Halloween extravaganza, “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.” The locale (New Transylvania) and iconic characters (drawn from the brilliantly written and cast original movie “Young Frankenstein”) are a natural for an audience seeking live theater in the spooky season.

In 1974, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder co-authored the film “Young Frankenstein,” a loving parody of pretty much every black and white monster movie Universal Pictures ever made. The film starred Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, and Kenneth Mars. In 2004, Mel Brooks turned the movie into a Big Broadway Musical, chock full of huge production numbers, derivative songs, and (happily) lots of the best shtick from the movie.

The TITG production, while ragged in some of the large ensemble numbers, does a generally magnificent job of filling many of the “biggest shoes” from the movie cast. Stevo Clay, in particular, positively channels Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein, without sacrificing the small touches that make the part his own. He slips smoothly from the supercilious nerd professor (Dr. “Fronkensteen”) to a hysterical pudding of a man, and ultimately to the confident and triumphant Dr. Frankenstein, and loses none of the comic genius of the original movie role. Jodi Coffman also draws heavily on Madeline Kahn’s portrayal of Victor’s fiancée, Elizabeth Benning. Her “don’t touch me” attitude is conveyed quite effectively. Coffman particularly sparkles in the love scene with the monster, Ron Hansen, and the song “Deep Love” is one of the few musical numbers that really adds anything to the production.

Ron Hansen gives the surprise standout performance of the evening. Once the monster becomes somewhat sentient, his expressive eyes and mouth seem to take on a life of their own, the intelligence and humor belying the rotting green flesh of his face. Carly Wasserstein, as the sexy lab assistant Inga, is playfully seductive and yodels like a pro (who DOES that?). She also maintains her German accent with greater precision than any of the other characters, cementing a lovely performance.

The multi-talented Centers clan (Zachary as Igor, Pruella as Frau Blucher) contribute many of the evening’s funniest moments; they are the bearers of two of the show’s most beloved running gags (“What Hump?” and the recurrent neighing of the horses whenever they hear the words “Frau Blucher”).

While by no means a perfect show, TITG’s “Young Frankenstein” is a great way to spend a pre-Halloween evening laughing with fellow monster fans. Because of mature themes and language, it is not appropriate for younger children.

A longer version of this review is available at westsidetheatrereviews.blogspot.com.




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