In the classic 1931 film “Frankenstein,” Dr. Frankenstein creates life from an inanimate mass of human pieces and parts and, afterwards, screams “it’s alive” in hysterical celebration of his achievement.
In the Beck Center for the Arts’ production of “Young Frankenstein” – the staged, music-infused replication of Mel Brooks’ hilarious 1974 film of the same name – what’s alive is the blatant, borscht-belt humor found in the film that was sorely missing from the over-produced national tour that came through PlayhouseSquare several years ago.
As he has shown in recent Beck Center productions of “The Producers” (another Mel Brooks screen-to-stage musical) and Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” director Scott Spence knows his way around old-school, groan-worthy running gags. And audaciously sophomoric sexual references. And the shameless absence of subtlety when setting up a good punch line and, especially, when setting up a punch line that is not so good.
He has masterfully navigated this familiar territory once again in “Young Frankenstein,” and the result is an exhilarating, thoroughly enjoyable madcap musical that parodies the horror films of the 1930s and 1940s.
Anchoring this production are featured performers who bring the perfect storm of comic timing and singing virtuosity to the stage.
Jamie Koeth is absolutely delightful as the brilliant but sexually suppressed Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of THE Dr. Frankenstein. He is an implosion waiting to happen, which is awfully fun to watch.
Alex Smith, as the sardonic Igor with a migrating hump, is funny just walking into the room. Every facial expression, every gesture… everything is funny.
Leslie Andrews captures all that is charming and seductive about Inga, Frederick's Swedish assistant. She turns a rather thankless song, “Roll in the Hay,” into a romp.
Amiee Collier, one of Cleveland’s top musical comedy mavens, is once again remarkable, this time as the melodramatic Transylvanian housekeeper, Frau Blucher.
Because these characters were written specifically for the film actors who portrayed them, and much of the script is identical to the screenplay, it is impossible not to find traces of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, and Cloris Leachman, respectively, in the mix. This only adds a comforting element of familiarity to performances that truly stand on their own creative merits.
This also applies to Christopher Aldrich as the Monster, John Brusser as Inspector Kemp, and Mark Hefferman as the Hermit.
Only the silver-throated Lindsey Mitchell, as Frederick’s self-possessed fiancée, Elizabeth, has yet to find her muse. Or her Madeline Kahn.
Choreographer Martín Céspedes manages to set some delightful dance to Mel Brooks’ rather unmemorable show tunes. He does so by following the comic rhythms found in the clever lyrics, which are accentuated by music director Larry Goodpaster and his superb orchestra. Céspedes avoids the trap of over-staging the large production numbers – another casualty in the national tour – but still showcases the skills of a very talented 18-member ensemble (which includes the pre-teen triple-threat, Elise Pakiela).
“Transylvania Mania,” the number that closes the first act, and the second act showstopper “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” are particularly brilliant. They put on display the best that Brooks, Spence, Céspedes and this cast have to offer.
Designers Cameron Caley Michalak (scenery), Trad A Burns (lighting), Ian Hinz (video), Carlton Guc (sound) and Aimee Kluiber (costuming) fill the stage with low-frills effects. They are, however, perfectly suited for a parody and nicely complement the performances.
It’s alive, alright. And “Young Frankenstein” is quite an achievement.
WHAT: “Young Frankenstein”
WHERE: Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood
WHEN: Through August 17
TICKETS: $12 – $29, call 216-521-2540 or go to www.beckcenter.org