Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
Review by Paul Oswell
It’s been feeling a bit like ‘Monster of the week’ in the city’s theater scene this month, with a handful of seasonally spooky productions. ’Let The Right One In’ brought the serious Scandic Noir, The NOLA Project’s ‘Dracula’ brimmed with original silliness, and now ‘Young Frankenstein’ at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center adds to the Halloween hilarity.
With musical numbers and script by the great Mel Brooks (who also wrote and directed the well-loved 1974 movie version) and the late Thomas Meehan, you arrive expecting to be launched into a high-octane, gag-filled romp, and that’s exactly how it goes. It’s not just a parody of the Frankenstein story that we all recognize; Brooks also pokes fun at the tropes of musicals, with pastiches of Cabaret and any number of Andrew Lloyd-Webber productions.
Directed with tangible enthusiasm and delight in the material by New Orleans’ own Leslie Castay, there’s little room for subtlety as the double entendres and innuendo, not to mention straight-up filthiness (the good kind), come at you from the off.
Dr Frederick Frankenstein (Michael Paternostro) leaves his prudish fiancee Elizabeth (Jennifer Delatte) to attend to his deceased grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Events conspire to have him reanimate a corpse with a stolen brain, creating the iconic monster (Adriel Aviles). Here, he is comically assisted by sidekick Igor (Scott Sauber), seduced by saucy scientist Inga (Charlie Carr) and reprimanded by Teutonic scold Frau Blucher (Meredith Long-Dieth).
The plot, involving the monster’s escape, Elizabeth’s unexpected arrival and the villagers forming angry hordes, is a minor concern. Young Frankenstein is more a celebration of suggestive vaudeville, set pieces as vehicles for Brooks’ jokes and some top-notch physical comedy. I’m not above an obvious analogy in that the production itself feels stitched together from movie, musical and vaudevillian traditions, and like the monster, it lives, laughs and lumbers into becoming its own entity.
Paternostro gives us a relentlessly energetic lead performance, requiring no small amount of discipline to maintain some dramatic cohesion. Sauber absolutely slays the crowd as the knowingly incompetent Igor, the funniest role in both the movie (recalling the flawless Marty Feldman) and this musical. Delatte’s journey from frump to femme fatale is embellished with some seriously stirring pipes and Carr and Long-Dieth both ham up their roles with impressive commitment. Long-Dieth, for example, positively relishes racy lines such as “He won the three-legged race all by himself” as she reminisces about Frankenstein senior’s memorably-proportioned physique.
The highlights for me were the set pieces of the monster’s chaotic, slapstick-heavy arrival at the home of a blind hermit (Ken Goode) and an all-singing, all-dancing, all-bellowing rendition of Puttin’ On The Ritz that you’d have to be undead not to enjoy. Aviles skillfully winkles a personality out of the monster that is both charming and sinister, and the chorus deliver some fine moments with dynamic dance routines and pitchfork-waving mob work.
Young Frankenstein is indelicate, risqué and raucous, but even the most politically-correct reading would struggle to find offense. If you love unpretentious, bawdy laughs, then animate your own bag of bones and lurch along for one last salute to this year’s spooky season.
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein runs at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center through Nov 5th. Tickets and more info here.
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