Although Mel Brooks is typically credited with the creation of the Young Frankenstein film, it was actually the brainchild of the film’s star, Gene Wilder. The campiness and gothic humor of the movie was a huge influence on me early in my life, and needless to say I was chomping at the bit to see the local live production at Smithfield Little Theatre on their opening night. This musical was produced by Robyn Ness and directed by Marie Miguel. I was very much hyped up to see the show, but I’m sorry to report that the stage production did not fully live up to that hype.
I arrived early so I had a chance to see the set before the show. The centerpiece and most elaborate part of the set is the laboratory. At first I was disappointed because it didn’t look like much under the house lights, but once the show was underway, and the correct lights hit the set it was quite impressive. I also need to commend the backstage crew for very smooth scene transitions. My only complaint with Steve Kellberg’s build was the flat they used to represent the village, which was just that: flat.
Another positive were the costumes, provided by Leslie Neel and Linda Gwaltney. The costumes were on point and reflected the classic look of the original film. There were a couple of exceptions though. For one, the outfits for the character of Elizabeth were very conservative, and did not reflect the desirability the she was intended to exude. The look of the Monster was slightly disappointing. They were smart enough to avoid giving him a prosthetic head piece, but between his shaven head, green paint, and his ridiculously cheap looking prosthetic hands, he came across looking more like Max Schrek’s version of Nosferatu. Perhaps this was the intended look, but I don’t think it did Tyrone Davis much justice, despite his putting everything he had into the performance.
Trey Gwaltney was the show’s musical director. The music in the show was a strange mixture of pre recorded tracks and live music, which did not seem to be in time with each other. One of the central focuses in the music was the french horn, also used as a prop in the show. The horn playing itself seemed behind the music and out of pitch. The gain on the microphone for the instrument was set too high, so the sound of the horn dominated over the rest of the music.
Adam Dennison James Shiels stars as Frederick Frankenstein. Dennison Shiels seems to be a fine actor with a dramatic flare, but I’d have to argue that he is more suited for drama than this particular brand of comedy. His performance was reserved and lacking enthusiasm. His facial expressions were good, but his voice and his timing did not deliver as well as his physicality did. His performance was missing that campy quality that is required for the role.
John Cauthen plays the role of Igor. I really feel that John brought an energy to the show that it desperately needed. John was campy as he could be, setting an example for the rest of the cast. It was an interesting choice for him, but at the same time I feel he was perfectly cast.
Alex Bedont portrayed Inspector Kemp. His baritone voice and physicality allowed him to fit the role very well. He more or less carried the first scene in contrast to the rest of the cast.
Kelly Flick plays Elizabeth Benning, Frederick’s estranged fiancé. It seems like she was holding back in her performance, and I suspect it was because of technical issues with the sound. I can tell she can really belt out a tune, but her voice did not seem as strong as I was anticipating. She has very good comedic timing, however.
The role of the Monster was filled by Tyrone Davis, who despite the silly costume, embraced his role fully. It is very difficult to move around in shoes that make one stand at least a foot taller than one’s natural height, but he didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He was able to pull off the dance number with ease.
The star performer in this production for me was Jen Kellburg as Frou Blucher (I can hear the horses whinny everytime I say her name). Her comedic talent and her top notch singing rivaled the performance of Cloris Leachman in her prime.
I was hoping the production would capture the magic of the source material, but sadly it did not. There were issues with pacing, specifically with some of the banter. The timing of the back and forth between characters is very important- that’s what really makes it a Mel Brooks comedy, and this production did not manage to pull it off.
Despite all of that, even if the show wasn’t perfect, the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves. That enjoyment did reflect on the energy of the show, specifically in the second act. The evening I attended was opening night, and once the cast gets the jitters out of the way, the production will be fine. The script is still amazing in either event, so it’s still worth seeing. Tickets are still available at the Smithfield Little Theater box office or online.
Written by Adam Stillwell, Pictures by Olivia Shelor.