Can comic parody be high art? Well, yes, in unusual circumstances. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder collaborated on the film Young Frankenstein, Brooks’ most successfully commercial film (1974), which parodied the old black-and-white flicks on the Frankenstein theme. Brooks eventually decided to use his film as a basis for a musical; he collaborated with Thomas Meehan. The musical ran for a year-and-a-half on Broadway, then went to regional theaters where it has been circulating with various directorial updates since then, with a major update accomplished in London (2017). Even if you think you have seen it before, it has been improved in sundry ways since.
The current production at New Milford’s Theatreworks offers a zany extravaganza of bejeweled laughter. Running at 2 hours and five minutes, two minor songs have been cut from the lengthy first act. Fortunately for this production, Jocelyn Beard is at the helm as director with Marisa Caron as choreographer. If the devil is in details, Beard has those details at her fingertips. But what about her clay?
Joseph DeVellis as the young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein inhabits the role so completely one might think he was born for the role, which demands a keen suavity amid the patently ridiculous. And, yes, he can carry a tune. In fact, singing has always been a characteristic strength of this particular theater’s productions.
Ashley McLeod, as the spoiled, narcissistic rich girl, sings with star-stage presence and vocal abandon. Lana Peck as Frau Blücher not only nails the role, but has a spontaneous sense of comic seriousness. Mathew Benjamin Horowitz presents a genially acrobatic Igor with good voice. Maya Jennings Daley as Inga is delicious and bouncy. Michael Wright as the “The Monster” is quite successful in the most awkward role of the musical. Shawn Brown as Inspector Hans Kemp adopts the mannered clichés of Peter Sellers slapstick Inspector Clouseau. David Fritsch endows the old villain of Dr. Victor Frankenstein with magnetic presence.
Actors and ensemble chorus all sing with infectious zest. The choral silliness plus whacky dancing remains an essential element of the giddy mayhem. My favorite songs were “Please Don’t Touch Me,” “Join the Family Business,” “He Vas my Boyfriend,” “Listen to Your Heart,” and the group parody of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
There is much bawdy, double-entendre, and enough plot twists to prevent any of the serious thinking that went into Mary Shelley’s great novel about man’s ambition to be God while denying God. But we don’t live in rebellious Romantic England, we live in contemporary America where the only cure to our national tragedy is to get out of the house and acquire some laughs to clear our headaches and indulge in the ever-delightful conclusion of the “surprise” double marriage.
There are special sound effects and Jocelyn Beard has added some visual scenic projections that are effectively integrated into the production. As having once worked as a Stage Manager, I must compliment Sara Tiffany Gannon in her work behind the scenes. Also, Musical Director Mary Jane Phelan.
The talented cast received an enthusiastic standing ovation on opening night. In the end, this production is a sheer celebration of the varied quirks of musical theatricality. The production runs through June 2. For tickets or more information, visit the theater’s website.