If you are familiar with the irreverent, bawdy, ever-so-absurdist humor of Mel Brooks’ films and plays, you will instantly understand the kind of wild ride the Grand Theatre’s The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein promises its audience. For those uninitiated into the 1974 cult film, the story follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein of monster-creating fame, who returns to Transylvania when he inherits the castle and its laboratory. Although Frederick has sought to escape his family legacy, insisting his name is pronounced “Fronk-un-steen,” he is sucked into the family business. The jokes (“You brought me an abnormal brain!?”) and the beloved characters (notably Igor played by the versatile Trevor Dean) whizz around the stage as true and funny as if freshly plucked from the black-and-white film. However, what watching the movie can’t prepare you for are the new dimensions of comedy that the live-action format, catchy songs, and its performance in the plush auditorium of the old South High School actually deliver.
Delicately-painted, plaster-molded ceilings line the long halls that lead to the auditorium where a cast of talented actors perform Young Frankenstein. The historic venue (now a Salt Lake Community College campus) is visually reminiscent of Salt Lake’s ‘50s past, when high-school girls wore poodle skirts and boys button-down shirts. It’s safe to say that when the Young Frankenstein chorus, led by Angela Avila as the prudish Elizabeth, breaks into “Please Don’t Touch Me,” whose lyrics include over a dozen utterances of the word “tits,” those squeaky-clean ‘50s ghosts blanch a little paler. Another memorable scene, in which the bold and sassy Inga (Arielle Schmidt) invites Frederick Frankenstein (Addison Welch) to “’Vroll’ in the hay” during a rocky wagon ride, is also more hilariously irreverent when seen in the (bouncy) flesh.
The actors, including Addison Welch, who is admittedly on-point in the intimidating shoes of the film’s star Gene Wilder, take most of their inspiration from the celluloid version, and only occasionally display their own interpretive flare. Lisa Ann White and Angela Avila bring an impressive live presence to characters Frau Blucher and Elizabeth, who own their sexuality in musical numbers like “He Vas My Boyfriend” and “Deep Love” in a way that is poignant, even in the year 2015. The songs belted by these pros, along with the choreography developed by director David Schmidt and Christine Moore, make even this comedic production inspiring for those tired of the contemporary litany of flat or uninteresting female characters.
The Halloween-spirited production will jog your memory about the Brooks original and give you a live experience that will leave your sides in stitches. The new sets, lighting, and choreography only add to the already-brilliant written material, and provide a setting for experienced and fresh actors alike to shine. Young Frankenstein runs this week on Thursday, October 29th, and has its final show on Friday, October 30th.
“Young Frankenstein,” at the Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City, Oct. 29-30, 7:30 p.m.
Hannah McBeth studied art history, classics, and Mediterranean archaeology before getting a Master’s at Cambridge University. She enjoys writing, hiking, and traveling to far-off places. Follow her on Twitter @hannahmcbee.