COLUMBIA – “I thought of the promise of virtues which he had displayed on the opening of his existence,” writes Mary Shelley of the monster in her classic novel “Frankenstein.”
A promise of virtues began as I entered Toby’s Dinner Theatre for its current production of Mel Brooks’ ironic take on Shelley’s work, “Young Frankenstein.” Going through the dinner buffet, I served myself Transylvania Pasta, Abby Normal Brain Meatloaf, and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” Butter Chicken, as the food was labeled - helped along by a small brain-shaped gummi-bear in my cocktail!
All this was mood-inspired fare for an audience largely “in the know” about the plot of the musical play, based as it is on Brooks’ own iconic 1970’s film “Young Frankenstein.”
Those who came to the Columbia dinner theatre with knowledge of the film will recall all of their favorite lines and jokes including: “my name is pronounced FrankenSTEEN,” the horses neighing at the sound of the name of the dour housekeeper Frau Blücher, and, of course, the servant Igor’s feigned surprise in his two-word classic line, “what hump?”
Yet there are several interesting plot twists which may convince the film lover that something more than a live production of the film is happening here.
As the play opened, the promise of virtues was fulfilled with a stunning ability by an able crew to move around complicated yet straightforward sets in small, challenging spaces – a dance floor became a castle which became, in turn, a laboratory below within a sinister sanctum sanctorum.
Talented singers and dancers – Inga and Frau Blücher, that is, Louisa Tringali and Tess Rohan, are to be singled out for special praise – pranced with delightful iconoclastic abandon amid coffins, skeletons and gallows in this production which presumes an audience’s taste for gallows humor.
And there are bawdy belly laughs to boot. Those who go along for rolling in this hayride (to borrow a phrase from one of the shows most tuneful songs) will reap many rewards.
“Young Frankenstein,” “the New Mel Brooks’ musical,” as it is still billed, is an unusual adaptation, as it is a satire of musicals based on a film satire of Universal Studio horror movies of the 1930’s. Many of these movies were themselves adaptations of the 1818 Mary Shelley novel.
The show is thus many times removed from the original book. Despite the risqué humor and delightfully corny puns and jokes which work well in the show (Frau Blücher wants to go with the kindly blind man on a “blind date”), some depth from the material’s origins in literature remains.
A particularly poignant point is represented especially well in this production as the Monster created by Young Frankenstein, the grandson of the original creator of the Frankenstein monster, falls in love with the scion’s fiancée, Elizabeth. She – like the monster – is inhuman: “don’t touch me,” she sings to her lover. Then she and the monster fall in love, and this suggests that though the human attempt to play God in creating life out of dead tissue may go monstrously awry, love itself is a creative force which can produce something new.
Passion has the power to make the inhuman strikingly human as two unlikely creatures fall convincingly in love – or “Deep Love,” as the song in the show has it.
For those who want to pursue the deeper virtues the novel has to offer, Bowie Community Theatre is presenting a much more classic version of “Frankenstein” in the near future (March 9 – 25). For an audience who relishes an unusual mixture of humor and horror, tap dancing to American swing music as East European peasants riot (the “Transylvania Mania!”), “Young Frankenstein” is recommended fare, all while digesting pleasant cuisine.
The show is playing through March 11, and parents of small children are here forewarned of the story’s bawdy wit and occasional intense scenes with the monster rampaging throughout Toby’s “theatre in the round.”