Theatre Review: Short North Stage’s Spirited ‘Young Frankenstein’
Love for the material animates the madcap frolicking of Short North Stage’s spirited production of Mel Brooks (book, music, and lyrics) and Tom Meehan’s (book) Broadway hit Young Frankenstein, directed and choreographed by Edward Carignan with assistant direction and choreography by Dionysia Williams.
The play follows the outline of Brooks’ comedy film classic with Frederick Frankenstein (Travis Smith) leaving his fiancée (Eli Brickey) as he travels home to settle the estate of his infamous grandfather. He falls in with the house staff Igor (Nick Lingnofski) and Frau Blucher (Nick Hardin) and falls for his lab assistant Inga (Brooke Walters) on the way to making a monster of his own (Adam Williams).
Whether you’re the kind of Mel Brooks superfan hunched on the edge of your seat for your favorite jokes – and there was no shortage of those on opening night – or someone less enamored of the material, the infectious enthusiasm of Carignan’s production is bolstered by a truly stellar cast.
Highlights of this cast with no weak links start with Lingnofski’s Igor. He turns the long-suffering assistant into a creature of firey, unhinged delight, turning the world off its axis. He and Williams set up a fascinating triangle around Smith’s subtle ringmaster, both playing off and teasing out aspects of Frankenstein’s personality. Smith knows exactly how much insanity to imbue Frankenstein with at the start so his snapping feels organic and right.
Hardin’s wildly funny Inga grounds and nudges the lunacy as he puts an indelible stamp on the character.
Brickey takes a character who could be a shrill cartoon or cruel window-dressing and turns any preconceptions on their head in a dazzling, self-aware tour de force. Walters has an even more difficult job with the character with the least to do and in the shadow of Teri Garr’s performance from the film and works wonders with Inga.
As important as any of the marquee stars, the ensemble and dancing are the star of many a Short North Stage production and Carignan and Williams outdid themselves here. Wild flights of fancy with huge group pieces, stitched together nods to the history of musical theater at a whiplash pace, sight gags compounding jokes in the foreground. When people are dancing, Young Frankenstein earns its length (2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission when I saw it, almost an hour longer than the movie).
Young Frankenstein is a labor of love, a victory lap, and a valentine for the fans of someone who reshaped modern comedy. Your enjoyment at its length is directly tied to your affection for the material, but even for a curmudgeon like me, the sheer joy emanating from the stage is hard to deny.
Young Frankenstein runs through March 29 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, please visit shortnorthstage.org.