Review: ‘Young Frankenstein’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

It did not turn out well for Dr. Frankenstein or his monster, but receiving an abnormal brain was a blessing for Mel Brooks. After eight decades in show business, he is still using that gift to get another huge rise out of the crowds at Toby’s Dinner Theatre with The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein.

Christopher Kabara, Jeffrey Shankle, and Tess Rohan in Young Frankenstein. Photos courtesy of Toby's Dinner Theatre.
Christopher Kabara, Jeffrey Shankle, and Tess Rohan in Young Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of Toby’s Dinner Theatre.

Broadway critics back in 2007 were too quick to pronounce this one a failed lab experiment in transplanting film comedy to stage. It may have seemed like a pile of dead tissue to them, but Mark Minnick’s staging at Toby’s has been charged with a bolt of comic lightning that left skeptics proclaiming, “It’s alive! Alive!”

Or maybe broad parody like this is just more fun in the round. In any case, even those who can quote parts of the 1974 film by heart will be delighted to see them re-animated by the dead-on comic delivery of the Columbia cast.

It’s a sure bet you will be laughing when Frederick goes off on a horse-drawn hay wagon with a lovely village lass for a “Roll in the Hay.” Or when those horses neigh each time the name Frau Blucher is breathed. (This show is not quite the audience-shocker that The Producers could be at times, but there is enough risqué material here to give super-sensitive parents a moment or two of disquiet.)

In repurposing his movie, Brooks has stitched together a number of familiar influences, from vintage film musicals to TV sketch comedies to Jerry Herman-era musical theater. As in The Producers, he dreamed up all the songs himself. Though not a skilled or innovative composer, he can still whistle up a happy tune, with lyrics built on gags that always bring the audience in on the jokes.

None of it is likely to go over your head or make you worry about social problems. … Well, it could make you wonder once or twice if you should be laughing so hard at something so silly. (We’re looking at you, Inspector Kemp, with your tale of how going to a top prosthetic limb specialist cost you “an arm and a leg.”)

Thanks to the inspired casting of director Mark Minnick, all the beloved leading roles from the movie are in good hands at Toby’s.

Jeffrey Shankle is even better as Frederick Frankenstein than he was as Leo Bloom in The Producers all those seasons back. He never resorts to the zany sentimentality of Gene Wilder, relying instead on his own brand of aloof comic wonder. And what a joy to hear him sing an ode to “The Brain” or watch him tap the starch out of  “Puttin’ On the Ritz.”

Alicia Osborn and Christopher Kabara in Young Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of Toby's Dinner Theatre.
Alicia Osborn and Christopher Kabara in Young Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of Toby’s Dinner Theatre.

Shankle makes an ideal male foil to the dueling femme fatales of Alicia Osborn and Louisa Tringali. Osborn is making an auspicious Toby’s debut as the frigid fiancée Elizabeth, evoking howls of laughter with “Please Don’t Touch Me” and later with “Deep Love.”

Louisa Tringali returns to Toby’s after too long a sabbatical to play that fun-loving lab assistant, Inga. Her handling of the “Roll in The Hay” wackiness and the “Listen to Your Heart” spoof makes sure that each song throbs with Brooks’ original comic intent.

Toby’s favorite David James gets huge laughs as Igor, whose every day at work is a “hump day.” His “Together Again For the First Time” is a joy, and his leading of the “Transylvania Mania” deserves to be the next dance sensation of 1935.

Christopher Kabara more than fills the big shoes of the doctor’s suave Monster. His comic responses and solo efforts make him a creature even a fearful villager could love.

Tess Rohan is on the mark as the spooky estate housekeeper, Frau Blucher (*neigh). Her solo of “He Vas My Boyfriend” provides another of the show’s perfect comic centerpieces.

And speaking of assured performances, watch for Toby’s floorshow mascot Robert Biedermann harvesting some huge laughs for himself as the blind Hermit with the world’s worst hosting skills.

David Bosley-Reynolds is a perfect delight as Inspector Kemp, as is Justin Calhoun as grandfather Victor, who lays down the invitation to Frederick to “Join the Family Business” (“and rob a grave or two”).

All the energetic dancing is colorfully humorous. It rises well above its satirical components, thanks to the inspired choreography by Mark Minnick and the obvious care of dance captain Rachel Kemp.

Music director Ross Scott Rawlings again leads the live pit musicians to their full artistic expression. Sound designer Corey Brown keeps all the vocal energies in acoustical balance, while the scenery and lighting of David A. Hopkins more than meet the usual high Toby’s standards.

Only once or twice in a decade does a show come along that fully delivers the live entertainment potential in a Toby’s ringside table. Young Frankenstein belongs in that category, and tickets are already scarce. Stop what you’re doing and make a date with this monster comedy hit.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.

The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein plays through March 11, 2018, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required and can be made at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311 or 800-88TOBYS, or purchase them through Ticketmaster.


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