‘Young Frankenstein’ musical is a monstrous laugh fest
November 17, 2015
Most everyone born before the mid 1970s knows about "Young Frankenstein."
The 1974 comedy film, a parody of the classic Universal monster movies, was directed by Mel Brooks and co-written by Brooks and Gene Wilder, who starred as Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the original mad scientist Victor Frankenstein.
It featured the late Peter Boyle’s breakout role as the monster.
More than three decades after the theatrical premiere, Brooks decided to turn the film into a Broadway show, officially called "The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein."
The Ogden-based Ziegfeld Theatre Company will prolong the Halloween spirit and bring the musical to the Egyptian Theatre for a two-weekend run beginning Friday, Nov. 19.
Rick Rea, artistic director of Ziegfeld Theatre Company, said he couldn’t wait to perform in front of Summit County audiences.
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"We have produced many shows in Park City and I’m confident that this is the best comedy we have done," Rea said. "This will be the most fun you will have in two hours."
Much of that has to do with the story, where Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, attempts to fulfill his grandfather’s legacy creating a monster from a dead body. Following the story from the film, Frankenstein is aided by his beautiful assistant Inga and his hunchbacked servant Igor.
But the story is more than just a comedic retelling of Mary Shelly’s gothic tale.
"Not only is it a parody, but it’s also a warmhearted and special story about life," Rea explained. "Frederick creates something he’s so passionate about and the monster tries to understand and comes to grips about the world around him."
That said, the musical differs from the film in many ways, but manages to maintain the essence of the concept.
"Speaking specifically to fans of the movie, the Broadway musical takes everything you love about the movie that can work on stage," Rea said. "You have the classic jokes and the wonderful story, but then it also includes some things that can only happen with live theater."
The big change is the colorful costumes and makeup.
"The film, of course, is black and white and is a parody of the old Universal monster movies, and while you can capture the humor on stage, you can’t capture the feeling of a film," Rea said. "So, what Mel Brooks did was take his original film and expanded on it and put some huge show numbers."
For example, there is a segment in the film where Frederick dreams his grandfather visits him and viewers just see Frederick tossing around in bed.
"In the musical, Frederick’s grandfather appears as a ghost and leads this huge number about the family business," Rea said. "All of the ghosts of Frederick’s insane ancestors call on him to continue their work."
Of course, there is the classic "Putting on the Ritz" scene where Frederick tries to show a civilized and cultured monster to the public.
"That is probably the most memorable minute-and-a-half sequence in the movie, and it turns into a nine-minute, full-production number," Rea said.
The musical is careful, however, to ensure that the big numbers don’t overshadow the original material, especially the characters.
"All of the performances in the film are so iconic that I don’t think anyone can ever duplicate them," Rea said. "I think the new variations keeps the essence of these roles, but are fun reimaginings."
The Ziegfeld Theater Production features Daniel Pack as Frederick, Eb Madson as Igor, Erica Choffel as Frederick’s assistant Inga, Becky Cole as Frederik’s fiancée Elizabeth and Rebecca Marcotte as Frau Blücher.
Rea, who also portrays the monster in the musical, took extra care with his interpretation.
"Peter Boyle’s performance is incredible and I wouldn’t even try to duplicate it, but I did, of course, start with the film to get ideas," he said. "However, I really struggled with the role, especially trying to figure out how the monster would talk."
During early rehearsals, Rea sounded like Taz the Tazmanian Devil from the Warner Bros. cartoons.
"It wasn’t really working and I was a little frustrated," he said.
One day, Rea was babysitting his goddaughter who just turned one.
"She was at that age where she was talking, without really taking and almost learning to walk and it occurred to me that the monster had all the emotions and desires of a grown up, but isn’t developed enough physically or mentally to communicate or do what he wants to do," he said. "I watched my goddaughter and saw the way she tried to walk and make sounds and that was the key for me with this role. So, that is where I found my physical and vocal character of the monster."
Rea not only plays the monster, but also Frederick’s grandfather, Victor, and a few other minor characters.
"It’s a little insane. I actually play four bit roles at the start of the show and do a make-up quick change into Victor and then do a 15-minute prosthetic and make-up change to play the monster for the rest of the show," he said. "So, this production is a marathon for me from beginning to end."
One of Rea’s favorite segments in the live performance is "Putting on the Ritz."
"When we get to that scene, it feels like the audience is at their 3-year-old children’s’ dance recitals and they all want them to do well," he said. "It feels like they want the monster to do OK. So, it actually becomes more than just a play.
"I mean, the audience members who grew up with the movie are suddenly participating in watching the whole thing come to life in hopes that it will have a happy ending," he said. "You never know what it’s going to be like when you rehearse a show. But I don’t think I have ever been in a show or have seen a show where the audience is so much on the side of the characters."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present the Ziegfeld Theater production of "The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein" on Friday, Nov. 20, through Sunday, Nov. 22, and Friday, Nov. 27, to Sunday, Nov. 29. Friday and Saturday curtain is 8 p.m. Sunday performances start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $19 to $29 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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