Young Frankenstein is a Fiendishly Funny Finale for Beck and Baer-Collins

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.

A Quaint & Quiet Retreat: Cannon Falls & the Quill & Quilt Bed and Breakfast

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Well, hi, there.  It’s nice to see you again.

The grip of the road had hold of me once again this Memorial Day weekend and so I found myself traveling to the little town of Cannon Falls in Minnesota to enjoy a little rest and respite at the Quill & Quilt Bed and Breakfast.

Since I had to travel a little farther than normal for this trip, I broke it up over a few days so I wouldn’t cut into valuable exploration time.  My journey began on Friday night where I promised myself I would drive an hour past Des Moines, IA before stopping to rest for the night.  About fifteen minutes before my promised stop time, I passed through Story City, IA where I nearly pulled over for the evening, but reminded myself that I said I would drive a full hour outside of Des Moines.  After all, surely there’d be another place just a bit up the road.

Silly me.

At first, I thought fate was going to push my drive all the way through to Mason City which is just outside MN’s border.  Fortunately, about 30 minutes after my promised stop time, I saw the telltale 3 blue signs which meant that gas, food, and lodging were close at hand.  I pulled off I-35 into the tiny town of Williams, IA and obtained a room at the Best Western Norseman Inn.  The motel wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but I was pleasantly surprised by the clean and comfortable room that met my eyes.  It also came at a very affordable price ($65 before tax).

After settling into the room, I went across the street to Boondocks Cafe for my supper.  I was momentarily stunned when I saw the restaurant because I swear that I had actually eaten at this place as a child with my grandparents.  I had a sourdough club sandwich and some fries for my meal which filled the cavity nicely, but I felt the price didn’t match the quality of the food.  Everything was a la carte, so I ended up paying $12 for diner food.  However, bear in mind that Williams is an isolated town so that makes it a bit of a seller’s market.

I returned to my room for a hot bath and some sleep.  And I must say that this inn has the thickest curtains I have ever seen.  When I turned out the lights, I couldn’t see my hand in front my face.  So I faded into the land of Nod.

The next morning I had a quick continental breakfast and was on the road by 9:30.  About 12:15, I found myself in Cannon Falls.  The best way to describe this town is that it’s a small town with big city energy.  The place was bustling!!  People were walking all over the place and this town must be the bike riding capital of the USA for I saw more bicyclists here than I’ve seen anywhere in the country.

The first thing on my mind was lunch so I found Mick’s Downtown Diner and went inside.  The joint was jumping, but I managed to find a seat for myself.  I ordered a delicious steak pita and settled down to a relaxing meal while I completed the novel I was reading.

After lunch I wandered around the town a little before finding the famed trails of the city.  As I walked along the trail, I found the city’s namesake waterfalls and wished I had packed swimming trunks and an inner tube so I could have tubed down the falls and Cannon River.  Instead, I took an invigorating 8 mile hike along the Cannon Valley Trail.

Upon the conclusion of my hike, I attended services at St Pius V and finally was able to check into the Quill and Quilt.  I was greeted at the door by the innkeeper and enjoyed a glass of natural fruit juice from a container that had strawberries, kiwi, and other assorted fruit soaking in ice.  Very tasty.

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I was led to the third floor of the inn and my room, the Writers Loft.  This was the most spacious room, I have stayed in to date.  Not only was the living area a good size, but the bathroom was a duchy in and of itself.  It contained a whirlpool tub and a double shower nicknamed the Car Wash.

 

The bed was king sized and comfy.

The bed was king sized and comfy.

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The Car Wash

The Car Wash

 

Once I had settled in, I gave the innkeeper my juice order for breakfast the next day, hopped in my car, and drove to the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN to have dinner with my brother, Jeff AKA That One Guy Who Travels, and his S.O., Scott.  We ate at Tucci Bennuch, a very wonderful Italian restaurant.  I was in the mood for something healthy so I opted for the Scottish Salmon with lemon risotto and arugula salad while the guys settled for spaghetti dinners.

My dinner was absolutely magnificent and after a pleasant night of food and conversation, we walked across the way to the Nestle Tollhouse store where I bought a chocolate chip cookie for dessert.  Our group said our good-byes and I made the 45 minute drive back to Cannon Falls.  Needless to say, I had funned myself out and collapsed into the most comfortable bed I had ever slept in and slept all the way through to the next morning.

I started my day with a long soak in my whirlpool tub, then headed downstairs to breakfast at 9:30.

The breakfast opened with a small dish of fruit with granola and a honey glaze and a glass of OJ.  The main course was an egg quiche with cilantro, cheese, and other veggies that made me feel healthy just looking at it.  On the side was a butter scone and some spinach and garlic sausage (which was devastatingly tasty).  Most enjoyable was the companionship.  For my regular readers, you know that I have been the sole guest at most of the B&Bs I’ve reviewed.  This time, the place was sold out and I had an great time simply conversing with the other guests.

After breakfast I proceeded to do absolutely nothing.  Now that’s a day.  For once, I planned no itinerary.  I wandered down another trail where I found the city parks and a frisbee golf course which had me wishing my old friends, Mat and Dave, had been with me for a little competition.  Once my walk had concluded, I returned to my room and watched the classic film, Mississippi Burning.

When the film ended, I went down to the spa suite on the first floor and enjoyed a 2 hour massage from Anna Harvey.  Her slow, firm pressure and movements really worked the kinks out of my weary body.  Once the treatment was completed, I returned to my room and enjoyed another long soak in the whirlpool tub to continuing purging the toxins from my body.

The Spa Suite

The Spa Suite

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Once done, I decided to hunt up some dinner and found myself at Chuggers, a little bar and grill on the main drag.  I decided to try the Fireball Burger which was truly exceptional.  After eating, I picked up a Dr. Pepper and returned to my room where I’m preparing to sip soda and watch Insomnia.

Tomorrow it’s back to reality until my next adventure which may be sooner than anyone thinks. . .

But if you find yourself in Cannon Falls, get a room at the Quill and Quilt.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

The Power of Perception

You nailed that audition to that ground.  Your spirits are in orbit.  There’s no way you’re not going to get that role.  And then you get a form letter thanking you for your time, but you could not be included in this particular production.

“What did I do wrong?” you think to yourself.

Odds are you did nothing wrong.  Consider the following quotations:

“I know you can play formal.”

“As soon as Jonathan Crane showed up on screen, Mat and I looked at each other and said, ‘Couldn’t you see Chris in that role?’”

“You remind me of a young Jimmy Stewart.  You play decent people, finding their way in the world, with a strong, moral center.”

“My perception is that you primarily fall into the category of Character Actor. . . As a character actor, you can come across as likable, but also stiff and a little repressed.  You also seem very controlled, and I don’t sense a lot of spontaneity. You seem most appropriate for someone who gets caught up in the events swirling around them rather than causing the swirling.  You can play both comic and serious, but I suspect that you’re a little stronger at the comic.  You do have the ability to play an “everyman” sort of character, though, and that is helpful.  And you are capable of projecting a certain sense of passion. “

Would it surprise you to learn that the previous quotations were about the same person?

That, in a nutshell, is the power of perception which is probably one of the most critical elements in being cast in a show.  It’s also the element over which you exert the least amount of control.

As auditioners, we all make choices about the characters we’re interested in and/or are asked to play.  Based on those choices and the uncontrollable factors I’ve often mentioned help dictate whether or not you get cast in a play.  But the biggest key to getting cast is how the choices you make and the uncontrollable factors cause the director to perceive you.

You could do the same audition for ten different people and each of those ten people will see something just a little bit different.  Some may think you are just perfect for the role.  Others may think you’re giving a terrible read.  Some may perceive something completely different from what you’re trying to project.  That’s the amazing thing about this business.  The possibilities are absolutely endless.

A few paragraphs back, you read 4 different observations about my own acting.  Not one of those people saw me in exactly the same way.  Each observation is colored not only by what these people have seen me do, but by their knowledge of me as a person.  That is a vital reality to keep in mind.

The first time you audition for a director is the only time you’ll be a tabula rasa (blank slate).  Even then, that might not be the case if you’ve developed a reputation of any kind in the theatre community.  From that first audition any number of things could happen.

Some directors will not cast you.  A few may decide that you fit a certain mold of character and will consider you if, and only if, that type of character is present in the story.  Others will like what they see, but believe you won’t work for this particular show.  There might even be a percentage of people who think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread and want to use you in every show she or he directs.  Heck, as you grow to know them personally, how your real self is perceived may play a heavy part in being included in future projects.

It’s very possible some reading this have grown or will grow frustrated with how they perceive they’re being perceived.  Don’t feel bad about that.  But don’t let the frustration control you either.  As the great writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, said, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing while others judge us by what we have done.”  Just be true to yourself and your visions and, sooner or later, you may change someone’s mind or you’ll find someone who sees things the way that you do.

As I was preparing this article, a friend told me that changing a perception can be a very difficult task.  I completely agree with that sentiment.  I also don’t think it’s something you can consciously set out to do.  What you can do is focus on becoming the best actor that YOU can be.  Get out and audition.  Take a class.  When you watch a play, study it.  Discover what works and doesn’t work and why.  Most importantly, don’t give up.

Self-perception is just as crucial a component because we often become what we perceive, for good or for ill.  Feed yourself with positive thoughts and remember those good thoughts when things seem difficult.  That’s a lesson that’s good for life, not just for the theatre.

The best story I’ve ever heard about the power of positive self-perception was about a man who decided in his thirties to become a professional actor.  In this business, that’s an old age to begin making a go of this line of work.  He enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse and flunked out with the worst scores in school history.

Determined to succeed, he moved to New York.  One of the jobs he took to make ends meet was as a doorman for a Howard Johnson hotel.  One day one of his teachers from the Pasadena Playhouse passed him as he worked the door.  The teacher recognized him and said, “See.  I said you would never amount to anything.”  The struggling actor later said that incident made him feel about one inch tall.

While he could have quit there and then, he soldiered on.  Ten years later he was the most bankable star in Hollywood.  That man was Gene Hackman.

At the end of the day, be happy.  Sometimes the power of perception will be a great asset and sometimes it will seem like a fierce opponent.  What ultimately matters is how you perceive yourself.  And when you perceive yourself well, you will always win, even if you lose.

Be good to yourself and God bless.