Friday, March 11, 2011

Review - Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein

Greetings, Memphians! Young Frankenstein is well underway here on the Orpheum stage and we are loving it! The illustrious Dr. Frankenstein (Fronk-en-steen?) played by Christopher Ryan and the hilarious Igor played by Cory English were kind enough to do a master class for any student who wanted to sign up. The picture above is from last night's class, and the actors even incorporated some of the material discussed in the class in the actual performance!

And speaking of our students, Lesley Stevenson, one of our fabulous STAR reporters, has sent us her review of the show, copied below! She attends St. Mary’s Episcopal School and this is her second year as a STAR reporter. You may remember her from her Dreamgirls review previously. Thanks Lesley!

"For those in the mood to laugh, Young Frankenstein provides a riot. Playing at the Orpheum from March 8 – March 14, Mel Brooks’ second comedic musical foray offers a whole spectrum of witty wonders. Cap that with rich costumes, catchy tunes, and seamless choreography, and the audience is ultimately afforded a night of eye-pleasing and lighthearted ridiculousness.

"Of course, ridiculousness is not meant with a negative connotation. Rather, Young Frankenstein does not take itself too seriously- and neither should the audience. Characters laugh at each other and even at the audience; the audience reciprocates. Theatregoers should be expecting little emphasis on plots, morals, and themes but rather an open invitation to witness life’s absurdities in a context that seems too absurd to believe.

"As always, probing enough will yield a deeper meaning, and this holds true for Young Frankenstein. Here we find a life created by a renowned neurologist-turned-madman who seems to be concerned solely with women and “joining the family business”- that is, creating monsters. When Dr. Frankenstein’s creature is not the refined, gentlemanly genius he intends, the fickle doctor abandons his creation, allows him to be chased and later captured, and finally tries to mold him into an intelligent brute for the sake of his reputation.

"This blatant disregard for responsibility and the preciousness of life creates dark undertones of grotesque irony in a musical that on the surface seems to celebrate a cavalier lifestyle of chipper, youthful individuals. Frankenstein’s eventual sacrifice, made in a last-resort effort to save his own life from the death penalty, does suggest some ulterior motives, but the audience can also choose to believe instead that perhaps Frankenstein wanted to prevent his creation from destruction too. In a final stroke of irony, it is the creature who, upon gaining Frankenstein’s level of intelligence, turns the tables of authority and revives Frankenstein from apparent death. Interestingly enough, similar themes of rejection and disregard arise in the original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, albeit not to song and dance.

"In truth, however, one could witness the spectacle of Young Frankenstein without ever pondering the significance of its subtle messages. Every speaking role is filled by a comedian, or at least an actor who has enough knowledge of timing to fit the role perfectly. The leads, particularly Christopher Ryan as Frederick Frankenstein and Cory English as his hunchback sidekick Igor, command the stage at all times with choreographed movements that extend beyond the dance sequences. These seasoned veterans know which gestures, vocal emphases, and tones yield maximum laughter and take advantage of these facts at every opportunity. Their stage presence attracts audience attention at all times, and so at all times are they perfectly in character.

"Young Frankenstein would not be complete, however, without its women. Frankenstein’s fiancĂ©e (Elizabeth, played by Janine DiVita) and his fair-weather fling (his assistant Inga, played by Synthia Link) provide attractive foils to the stereotypical witch-like housekeeper Frau Blucher (played by Joanna Glushak). The women represent three very different personality types, but each offers a unique brand of comedy based on archetypal assumptions of spoiled city women, pleasant peasants, and solemn spinsters, respectively.

"A standout number in this comedic landscape is “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” the extended showcase of the creature’s supposed acquired gentility and worldliness. With a fluid dance routine performed more by Frankenstein than his creation, a tap sequence performed by the creature and ensemble- all of whom wear significantly tall lifts- dramatic light changes, a segment of quartet harmony, and clever use of color and shadow, the piece is beyond a doubt the flashiest, gaudiest, and indeed most spectacular number. It represents the low point in Frankenstein’s journey, but as such it must contain more glamour than ever before. The song delivers.

"Young Frankenstein’s costumes must also be praised. From Transylvanian folk attire to scientific garb and tuxedoes for “Ritz”, the costumes are clean-cut, elegant, and appropriately vibrant or stark. This attention to detail is noticeable throughout the show. Even the ensemble members have small bits of storylines or humorous moments that lend the show a broader feel.

"Detail overload is also employed to make the audience feel just as insane as those in the story. In one scene, “Join the Family Business,” so much happens onstage among the dancers and actors that a complete set change is barely noticeable; caught up in the movements and craziness of what seems to be dozens of Einstein-esque scientists, a spectator cannot notice backdrop and scenery changes. As a side, the same number later produces a giant Frankenstein monster puppet that allows for even more distraction.

"In the moment, this production is witty and enjoyable. Deeper meanings persist, but in the end the show serves to offer laughs, and laughs it gets. Caution must be advised to parents of school-age children. Innuendo is undeniably and at times noticeably present, although other references are much more sly. For teenagers and adults, however, the show is sure to provide a night full of fun, laughter, and of course ridiculousness. "

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