By LIZ BYRON. I was sitting in a German class a couple of years ago when my teacher, demonstrating a new grammar concept, used the example character “Frau Blücher”. Without thinking, I neighed like a horse, much to the alarm of my classmates — most of whom were a good ten years younger than me and, apparently, had not had the good fortune to be exposed to Mel Brooks’ classic film Young Frankenstein. They didn’t know that the name “Blücher” automatically comes with horses neighing. But I have seen that movie so many times that I regularly end sentences by quoting it. Thus it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that I drove to Anoka to see Lyric Art‘s production of Young Frankenstein: The Musical; anticipation for obvious reasons, and trepidation because there is nothing quite like the disappointment of seeing a copy that doesn’t live up to the original (especially if you’ve driven all the way from south Minneapolis to Anoka for it!).
Now, don’t get me wrong, in my mind, nothing could live up to the original, and no matter how talented Kyler Chase was as Dr Frederick Frankenstein, neither he nor anybody could ever overshadow the film performance by Gene Wilder. But then, this is a musical, complete with singing and dancing (even tap-dancing) and chorus lines, which makes it its own separate entity. And, luckily, Mr Chase is very talented.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie — well, first of all, watch the movie. But second of all, Young Frankenstein tells the story of young neurologist Frederick Frankenstein whose grandfather was a notorious madman who was bent on creating living monsters out of fresh corpses. Forced to travel from New York to Transylvania to attend to his late grandfather’s affairs, Young Dr Frankenstein meets a zany cast of characters and finds himself unexpectedly fascinated by his grandfather’s unfinished research.
This is a particularly extravagant production, with multiple dramatic costume changes, a live orchestra, and an impressive set that included large changing pieces, trap doors, moving parts, and hoists. In fact, this is probably on par with larger productions you might expect to see at the Guthrie or in a traveling production at the Orpheum, lending truth to Lyric‘s motto: “Big city theater. Home town charm.” So, kudos to the production staff, particularly scenic esigner Brian J Proball, costume designer Samantha Fromm Haddow and assistant costume designer Libby Porter, not to mention the specialty prop designers Heather McLaughlin, Nate Otto, and Lea Chapaton.
But of course, no show can survive on cool costumes and clever props alone. Young Frankenstein boasts a strong cast, from Tom Goerger‘s intriguingly charming Monster and Kyler Chase‘s conflicted Dr Frederick Frankenstein to the delightfully dark Frau Blücher (nnneeeigh!) performed by Kate Beahan and Katharine Strom‘s hilarious performance as the narcissistic Elizabeth Benning. Rounding out the lead roles, Nykeigh Larson gave a solid performance as Inga, the Transylvanian sex kitten/lab assistant, and my personal favourite, Brendan Veerman as Igor — I would never have thought to portray the humpacked assistant as campy, but I’m glad someone did, and Veerman was great fun to watch, from his snazzy dance moves to his nuanced facial expressions. Nick Menzhuber, who played both the uptight Inspector Kemp and the late (but entirely mad) Dr Victor von Frankenstein, was a little hard to hear during his musical numbers, but it was unclear whether this was due to microphone issues (of which there were a couple), or enunciation. But both characters are zany enough that they’re funny even if you can’t really hear what they’re saying.
And let me just interrupt myself to remind you all that it doesn’t matter if you know the joke and how it ends, you should never blurt out the punchline before the actor does in live theatre. Do you hear me, Lady Who Was Sitting Three Rows Behind Me? In fact, you should never say anything out loud at all while the lights are down, alright? Are we all clear on this? Save that business for intermission, or for staying at home with Netflix.
If there were a few parts that were not nearly as funny to me now as they were when I was a kid, that’s not the fault of the company; jokes about domestic abuse and rape were considerably more acceptable when Mel Brooks’ movie came out in 1974 than they are now. I was also a little confused about the mindset of Young Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth; she teases her fiancé and then begs him, “Don’t touch me!” until they are married, but then seems to be visibly turned on when Frau Blücher caresses her. Later still, she falls for a man. So, are we to understand that she is bisexual? But just really doesn’t like her fiancé? Or was what I interpreted as arousal supposed to be disgust with Frau Blücher? It wasn’t a major detail, but it was a little confusing nonetheless.
Overall, though, other than a few opening-night bumps in the road — a prop malfunction here, a microphone failure there — this was a well-directed, well-performed production of a hilarious story full of awesome song-and-dance numbers. So take a drive out to Anoka and prepare to laugh! Oh, but don’t take your kids. It’s a zany comedic romp, but there is a lot of sexual innuendo (and some less-subtle-than-innuendo sexual content, for that matter).
Young Frankenstein: The Musical based on the story and screenply by Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks, with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. At the Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, 420 East Main St, Anoka, MN. Runs October 10-November 2, 2014 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Tickets $16-26 at www.lyricarts.org or call 763-422-1838.