Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Alex Hunt, Jeff Hines-Mohrman, & Brittany Cox in Young Frankenstein. Photo: DDP
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks (“Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin)
Choreography by Heather Paige Folsom
Directed by Lee Buckholz
A review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2023, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Mel Brooks is a legend. From his days writing for Your Show of Shows, through his feature film writing and directing debut The Producers, to some of the best spoof films ever made, the man has endured as one of comedy’s great icons.
Over the years, he also dabbled in the realm of the Broadway musical. Early attempts, like Shinbone Alley and All American, for which he wrote or co-wrote the librettos, were not big hits. But, in 2001, he hit paydirt with the musical adaptation of his film The Producers. It was a critical and commercial smash, which clearly led him to look at his other films for inspiration for a follow-up.
That led to the creation of Young Frankenstein, a musical adaptation of his 1974 film satire of the horror genre. The film is legendary and hilarious and arguably started a whole new genre of filmmaking.
The musical, unfortunately, is not as successful.
If you are a fan of the film (and really, who isn’t?), most of the comedy remains intact. If this had just been done as a stage farce instead of a musical, it may have worked better. Unfortunately, unlike The Producers, the songs feel like they were just dropped into the narrative. They’re not remotely as memorable and they stop the story in its tracks almost every time. There are some exceptions, which I’ll get to shortly.
The story revolves around the grandson of the legendary Dr. Frankenstein, who is called to Transylvania to resolve his grandfather’s estate. He is soon pulled into the family business as he reads his grandfather’s journals and realizes that creating life from dead tissue is possible, and soon unleashes a new Monster on the world.
The positive side is that the cast of Derby Dinner’s current production is uniformly amazing and manages to elevate the material. From the lead character to the briefest ensemble role, every performer brings their A-game. A few of them even manage to emulate their counterparts from the original film with amazing authenticity.
Jeff Hines-Mohrman doesn’t resemble Gene Wilder physically, but his sense of comic timing would make the film’s star proud as the put-upon title character. Mandi Elkins Hutchins channels Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher so exactly it’s almost scary, and her song “He Was My Boyfriend” is one of the show’s best numbers. Bobby Conte is also scarily on point with his recreations of two characters (Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp and Gene Hackman’s Blind Man). The scene with the Blind Man and the Creature is one of the show’s most memorable moments.
As I said, the score is not a great one. I suspect Brooks was hired, not inspired, this time around and just didn’t come up with his best material. That being said, there are a couple of fun numbers that manage to shine through, such as “Together Again for the First Time”, “Transylvania Mania”, and “Deep Love”. The adaptation is flawed, but it does have its moments.
As usual at Derby Dinner, the sets, costumes, lighting, and sound are first-rate. Kudos to the design team for incorporating as much of the original Broadway designs as possible, especially the costume designs of William Ivey Long.
As I said, this is not the best work by a legend, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time in spite of the flaws. It’s still a fun evening’s entertainment!
Starring Jillian Prefach Baker, Clayton Bliss, Kyle Braun, Matthew Brennan, Connor Brunken, Bobby Conte, Brittany Cox, Jennifer Frasier, Alfie Jones, Paul McElroy, Jeff Hines-Mohrman, Chap Hollin, Alex Hunt, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Stephanie Inglese, Sara King-Bliss, Mitchell Lewis, Kathleen Meyer, Clay Smith, Sierra Stacy, and Taylor Thomas.
February 14 – March 26, 2023
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.