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Friday, January 26, 2018

‘Young Frankenstein’ Brings Monster Laughs to Toby’s

Jeri Tidwell Photography
Just at a time we all could use a good laugh or a hundred, Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia comes through with an enormously funny and entertaining Young Frankenstein: The Mel Brooks Musical.  The book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Brooks is based on the 1974 film Young Frankenstein that was written by Brooks and Gene Wilder. 

So, it’s fair to say, this is a Mel Brooks spectacle, and the production of Young Frankenstein at Toby’s under the stellar direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick would make the 91 year-old Brooks proud.  #hocoarts

Scenic and Lighting Designer David A. Hopkins brought his “A Game” to this production.  There is an imaginative display of lighting mixtures and special effects as well as a wide array of set pieces and props from a hospital gurney and lab equipment to a gallows that allow the production in Toby’s in-the-round venue to play big. 

Add that to excellent sound design and effects by Corey Brown, magnificent costumes designed by William Ivey Long (and there are lots and lots of costumes) and coordinated by Tommy Malek, wonderful make-up artistry and wigs, proficient musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings who leads the solid seven-piece orchestra, precise staging with a torrid pace to the show, and a company of talented and energetic performers with many playing multiple roles, a near-perfect production has been created—and not from the dead either.

Mr. Minnick’s spot-on choreography is inventive and extensive.  The performers, either in small groups or larger ensemble numbers, adapt beautifully to the confines of the stage and excel in such numbers as “The Happiest Town,” “The Brain,” “Together Again,” “Join the Family Business,” “Transylvania Mania,” and the sparkling tap dance number, Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Villagers in Transylvania celebrate the death of Victor Frankenstein, the original creator of the famous monster made from the body parts of the dead.  When it was revealed that the deceased has a grandson to keep the lineage going, the villagers panic at the prospect of yet another monster creator in that family but eventually calm down when they find out he lives in New York.  Why anyone from New York would come to Transylvania, they ask.  Whew!

But there wouldn’t be a movie or a musical if he didn’t make the journey.  In fact, young Frederick Frankenstein (who he insists is pronounced “Fronkensteen”) needs to be in Transylvania to deal with his grandfather’s castle, which he had inherited.  What could possible go wrong?  Plenty as it turns out with all the zaniness from the movie intact.

Jeffrey Shankle and David James have been long-time wonderful performers at Toby’s. But to see them play off each other in this utterly wacky madcap of a musical conjures up visions of other notable comedic Broadway pairings, such as those in Brooks’ The Producers (Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom) and even further back with Mame (Mame and Vera) and My Fair Lady (Henry Higgins and Col. Pickering) to name a few.

The chemistry and campiness between the two fit naturally and comfortably; it is an absolute treat to watch and listen to them.  Sure there is the temptation to go over the top in these hammy roles.  Thankfully, the skilled actors did.

In a tour de force, Mr. Shankle romps through the movie’s Gene Wilder portrayal of Frederick Frankenstein brilliantly and with flair.  Comedic timing, strong vocals and dancing are required and Mr. Shankle delivers.  His solo “Frederick’s Soliloquy” is touching and outstandingly performed.

However, his duet with David James, playing the flamboyantly gimpy Igor (pronounced Eye-gor), in the song “Together Again” is one of the show’s highlights.  

Tess Rohan does a wonderful job as Frau Blücher, who was more than just a housekeeper to the late Victor Frankenstein.  With a thick Transylvania accent Ms. Rohan relishes her comedic role and shines in the song “He Vas My Boyfriend.”  The mere mention of Frau Blücher—even whispers—provokes two equines (played by Gregory Banks and Brook Urquhart) to neigh.  That pair is hilarious.

Alicia Osborn plays Elizabeth who is engaged to Frederick but apparently without much physical contact.  Elizabeth surprises everyone when she shows up at the village and catches Frederick on a hospital gurney under the sheets with the sexy woman who seduced him, Inga (played very well by Louisa Tringali).   Ms. Osborn’s song “Please Don’t Touch Me” is comical and her solo ballad “Deep Love” is performed beautifully.

Portraying the recently deceased Victor Frankenstein in a hilarious dream sequence, Justin Calhoun, who plays other parts throughout the show, demonstrates his strong vocals in “Join the Family Business.”

Then there is “The Monster” (played by Christopher Kabara) created by Frederick after he was convinced to carry out his grandfather’s work. Growling, menacing and large, the Monster terrifies the villagers then receives a transfer of intelligence and evolves into an articulate and ultimate lover of Elizabeth and then a medical doctor with surprising results.  His voice is in fine form with a reprise of “Deep Love” after he proposes to Elizabeth.

In a scene straight out of The Bride of Frankenstein, The Monster, prior to his transfo
Jeri Tidwell Photography
rmation, enters a cabin and encounters a blind hermit.  Veteran actor Robert Biedermann 125 pulls off the blind man character flawlessly constituting one of the production’s funniest scenes.  Mr. Biedermann sings “Please Send Me Someone” and he got more than he bargained for.  So did The Monster.

David Bosley-Reynolds with his deep voice turns in a good performance as Inspector Kemp, the man with one wooden arm and one wooden leg—a good source of humor.

Other members of the talented cast include David Singleton, Gregory Banks, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Overton, Mary Kate Brouillet, Elizabeth Rayca, and Coby Kay Callahan.

Young Frankenstein under the direction of Mark Minnick at Toby’s is a comedy about a monster but it’s also a monster comedy. A magnificent cast and crew with all the wonderful technical elements supporting it make this a don’t miss show.  And, of course, there is that scrumptious Toby’s buffet.  

Advisory.  Young Frankenstein contains adult language and sexual situations and is not recommended for children under age 14.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Young Frankenstein runs through March 11, 2018 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online

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