Take one part classic film comedy, add a musical score, sprinkle with high energy performances, mix liberally with top flight directing, and you’ve got Young Frankenstein. The Playhouse’s season finale is the funniest comedy of the season as well as a fitting farewell from artistic leaders, Carl Beck and Susie Baer-Collins, who are retiring after the close of this production.
Once the first notes from the talented orchestra, led by the strong conducting of Jim Boggess, are played, you will be whisked into a world straight out of a Universal horror picture illustrated by a haunting and archaic set designed by Jim Othuse, who has really topped himself with this production. The funny, inventive, and nuanced direction from Baer-Collins and Beck, combined with a superb troupe of performers, and sharp choreography from Melanie Walters will have your ribs aching from laughter when the night is through.
I’m always a bit leery when a show is changed from one medium to another because something is usually lost in the translation. However, I was quite surprised by how well this show worked as a musical. The numbers felt natural and I really enjoyed the use of metahumor as the show repeatedly acknowledges the fact that this is a musical. As good as the show was, I did think the script was a bit weaker than its source material as the musical eliminates some great scenes and jokes from the film version and replaces them with gags that are hit and miss. But any jokes that miss the mark are quickly forgotten thanks to the talented group of performers gracing the stage.
High praise is due to the talented ensemble which proves the old adage about there being no small roles. Each member is always fully involved with the show, adding delightful bits of character to their performance which made them a treat to watch. Especially entertaining were Christopher Work as Ziggy, the town idiot and Steve Krambeck, who owns the stage in a cameo as Victor Frankenstein where he displays an amazing singing voice as he persuades Frederick to “Join the Family Business”.
Ablan Roblin has a heavy load to bear as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein/Fronkunsteen. Blessed with a fine, tenor voice, Roblin does well with the singing part of the role, but he lacked an x factor that I believe was necessary for the character on the acting side. Roblin also had a few moments where his projection and diction weakened and he also sped over a couple of lines that would have been hilarious with a slower pace and slight change of delivery. That being said, he also has some shining moments such as when he meets Igor (“Together Again for the First Time) and when he attempts to persuade the Monster that he is loved (“Man About Town”).
This night belonged to Spencer Williams who seemed to be channeling Marty Feldman in his interpretation of Frankenstein’s servant, Igor/Eyegor. From the moment Williams makes his first entrance, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. With subtle shifts of expression, brilliant phrasing, and a hunched over, rubbery kneed posture, Williams stole every scene he was in and gave one of the three strongest performances seen on a Omaha stage this season.
Equally brilliant was Judy Radcliff as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper and girlfriend of the late Victor Frankenstein. Matching Williams’ Igor step for step with her impeccable comic timing, Ms Radcliff had the audience rolling in the aisles with her stonefaced, overenunciating, surly antics. Proving just as effective on the musical side, Ms Radcliff has one of the evening’s best numbers as her powerful alto voice belts out “He Was My Boyfriend”.
Kirstin Kluver has a nice turn as Inga, Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant. Utilizing a flawless Swedish accent, Ms Kluver infuses Inga with a balanced blend of sweetness and sultriness. Her impressive soprano voice also delighted the audience with renditions of “Roll in the Hay” and “Listen to Your Heart”.
Ryan Pivonka does an exceptional job with the role of the Monster. Despite being limited to grunts for most of the show, Pivonka manages to put meaning behind those grunts so you always know what the Monster is thinking. He also has an expertly developed sense of movement as his clunky steps as the Monster still have a type of grace and fluidity about them.
Julia Mackenzie is one of the show’s highlights as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée, Julia. Though engaged to Frederick, Ms Mackenzie’s Julia is clearly in love with herself. So vain is she that Frederick is only allowed physical contact with her in his dreams (“Please Don’t Touch Me). Ms. Mackenzie’s devastating comic acumen and soaring vocals provided some very nice moments in the production.
Joe Dignoti is a hoot in the dual role of Inspector Kemp/the Hermit. As Inspector Kemp, Dignoti keeps the audience in stitches with his stiff right arm and left leg and a brilliantly over the top accent. He’s even funnier as the blind hermit who pleads with God to “Please Send Me Someone” with a facile bass. Dignoti’s accidental torturing of the Monster as the Hermit is one of the funniest scenes in the play.
Ultimately the show is a truly satisfying night of entertainment and a classic example of the void that will be left in the theatre community after Beck and Baer-Collins take their final bows. Don’t miss the opportunity to see them shine one last time through this production.
Young Frankenstein plays at the Omaha Playhouse until June 29. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $40 ($24 for students). Call the theatre for reservations at 402-553-0800. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.