OGDEN — It is officially the most magical time of year. I proudly confess that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the crisp chill in the air as I put on a cozy sweater and grab a pumpkin spice treat on my way to the store for more spooky décor. I aspire to get a 12-foot-skeleton the way Ralphie wants a red rider BB gun, and I know I’m not the only one. I can quote many Halloween movies by heart, particularly Mel Brooks’ 1974 masterpiece Young Frankenstein. I have been watching the movie since I was small and was over the full moon excited to see that Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theatre was bringing the new musical version to life this year.
The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein is written by Brooks himself and Thomas Meehan and can be compared to Frankenstein’s monster. It takes bits and pieces from the original source, using all the best lines and gags, while transplanting it into a new body of the American Musical with music and lyrics written by Brooks. The show cobbles together different styles and elements of the genre to make this new creature come to life.
The 1974 movie was filmed in black and white as a send-up of the original 1931 James Whale Frankenstein movie. Caleb Parry’s set and projection designs set the stage from the lift of the curtain. It feels like the actors are in a gray-scale world of horror full of dark woods, foreboding castles, and eerie mists. Caleb Parry’s design sets the stage for him to enter as the title roll of the play, which he delivers with sheer brilliance. He portrays Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”) the American professor of neurology who is utterly ashamed of his relation to his infamous grandfather, Victor Frankenstein. Frederick is lured back to his family estates in Transylvania upon his grandfather’s death to settle his affairs. Parry has a captivatingly high energy throughout the show. His acting and vocals are extremely impressive, especially during his numbers “(There Is Nothing Like) The Brain” and “Frederick’s Soliloquy,” but the best part of Parry’s performance is his total engagement with the other character’s on stage. His reactions with his facial expressions and body language to whatever his scene partner gives him lends an energy to every scene that is hard to describe and enchanting to watch. For example, when Frederick must leave his snooty fiancée Elizabeth (Samantha Wursten) during her fast-paced number “Please Don’t Touch Me” both actors were fantastic. Parry quivers in anticipation throughout Wursten’s song at the very thought of touching her.
Wursten’s Elizabeth is a hot and cold vixen, keeping those around her always rebuffed but wanting more. She can never be satisfied until the end of the play when she finds the Monster and proclaims, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” in operettic ecstasy. The vocally versatile Wursten sounds glorious during her song “Deep Love,” an Andrew Lloyd Webber-ish ballad full of salacious wordplay.
Frederick doesn’t think much of Elizabeth once he gets to Transylvania because he is quickly distracted by his new helpful hunchbacked minion, Igor (pronounced “Eye-gore”), played on by Ryan Bruckman who is the perfect stooge as he harmonizes with Parry’s vocals and energy during their duet “Together Again For the First Time.” The dorsally-challenged Igor is committed to every vaudeville schtick that a Mel Brook’s fan expects like the moving hump on his back and the command to “walk this way.”
Besides meeting his new minion Igor, Frederick quickly meets his new yodeling lab assistant, the beautiful Inga (Karaline Taylor) who invites him to come take a “Roll In The Hay.” This was one of my favorite scenes because every element was spot on. The set pieces of a small bouncing wagon jostled up and down while the projections move the scene through a forest. Two actors from the ensemble wore beautiful horse head headdresses to pull the cart as Igor drove it down the path, but the main focal point is Frederick and Inga in the back of the wagon. Inga sings to an oompa melody in with impressive vocal alacrity as she yodels and invites him to roll in the hay with her. The set, projections, and costumes all supported the beautiful singing, while Inga’s innocent seduction and Frederick’s reactions had me rolling with laughter.
Upon arriving at the castle, Frederick meets Frau Blucher (Morgan Parry) who I must commend as the funniest woman of the night. Morgan Parry committed to the character being so spine-tinglingly creepy with her scowling expression that the mere mention of Frau Blucher’s name inspired the classic running gag of lightning and frightened horse whinnies. Her Cabaret-style number “He Vas My Boyfriend” was another highlight of the night where the audience was rolling with laughter.
The goal of bringing all the characters to the castle is to allow Frederick to repeat his grandfather’s experiment of reanimating dead tissue and implanting a new brain into a giant corpse. Thus is the Monster (Dallin Richards) reborn. Richards was not cast based on size alone, although his stature opposite the other actors is certainly impressive from a visual standpoint. Some great moments happen when he picks up other actors up and carries their small frames around with ease. Seeing the small Frederick cradled on the giant crying Monster’s lap was so funny. But Richard’s Monster has both brains and talent when he shows he can tap dance, give a beautiful soliloquy to save his master, and sing with a rich tenor during “Deep Love (Reprise).”
Trying to save the village from the rampaging Monster is Inspector Kemp, played by Michael Reis, who lost an arm and a leg to the last Frankenstein’s Monster. Reis also plays the blind Hermit who tries to make friends with the Monster. Reis’s characters both had unique and funny vocals that he kept consistent and comical.
Brooks’ book is a prime example of the American musical formula, which Director Jennifer Westfall utilizes expertly. The scenes have a rhythm which keeps the show barreling forwards, with only one scene change that didn’t seem to go as expected and dropped the pace for moment. Choreographer Kacee Neff made the ensemble shine throughout the show using many different dance forms. I loved the Eastern European gypsy flare during “Join The Family Business,” the fast-paced pas de deux with no touching during Elizabeth’s opening song, and the customary big tap dance number for “Putting on the Ritz.” While the tap dance number had a few spots that still needed polishing, I was very impressed with the diversity of choreography throughout the show and the high level of difficulty for the dancers. The ensemble was very strong both physically and vocally as they supported the main cast.
I left the show feeling like it could have been written as a love letter just to me. It took things that I have adored my whole life (Mel Brooks, Halloween, and musicals) and whipped them together into something new and exciting. I will admit I am probably the most perfect target audience to enjoy and review this play, but I can say with unbiased candor that the design, vocals, and acting were all superb. However, all patrons should know that Mel Brooks’ humor is PG-13 and full of double entendre. It might not be to everyone’s taste if you don’t know what to expect. Also, the show has strobe lighting effects as well as fog machines which were a little heavy handed at the start of Act II and left some patrons toward the front coughing until it cleared a bit. But for those patrons who gleefully enjoy a night of laughter, music, and spooky thrills, I recommend this show as an electrifying addition to the best season of the year.