Theater Review: Mel Brooks’ monster musical electrifies the Timber Lake stage!

July 9, 2014

Cody Jolly as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. (Photo provided)

Cody Jolly as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. (Photo provided)

By Bill Beard
Theater Critic

If you’ve ever liked Mel Brooks, if you’ve laughed at any of his movies, if you have ever enjoyed “spoof-satire-farce” style comedy, if the Frankenstein legend holds any intrigue for you, if you enjoy great movies turned into even greater stage musicals … actually, if you enjoy musical theater at all (!), then by all means, get yourself out to Mount Carroll immediately (through this Sunday, July 13), for one of the best summer stock productions of the season, or any season, for that matter: Timber Lake Playhouse is currently producing The New Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein, and it is superb!

Frau Blucher (Analisha Santini), Dr. Frankenstein (Cody Jolly) and Inga (Lexi Plath). (Photo provided)

Frau Blucher (Analisha Santini), Dr. Frankenstein (Cody Jolly) and Inga (Lexi Plath). (Photo provided)

The original Broadway production got panned badly, and by all indications, deserved it. But in the years since, much has been changed and improved, so that it now, under the director of Timber Lake Playhouse’ former artistic director, Brad Lyons, it is two-and-a-half hours of delight.

Drury Lane Oak Brook produced this show some time back, and Timber Lake’s not only equals, but in some aspects, surpasses that production.

From TPL promo blurb: “The story follows bright, young Dr. Frankenstein (that’s Fronkensteen) of New York, who, upon the death of his grandfather (the original Dr. Frankenstein), travels to Transylvania to settle affairs, and becomes determined to complete his grandfather’s masterwork and bring a corpse to life.” Of course, he is ably assisted by some wild and wonderful local residents. The cast is uniformly excellent.

Inspector Kemp (Grant Brown) and the villagers. (Photo provided)

Inspector Kemp (Grant Brown) and the villagers. (Photo provided)

Young Fronkensteen, “Freddie,” is meticulously played by the talented Cody Jolly, fondly remembered from last summer’s company for his handling of a variety of roles, especially in the hit Spamalot. Here, once again, he is handling the style beautifully, with perfectly-balanced control, even of his hair, which he has turned into a fantastic combination of a costume and a prop! But in a role that could so easily go “over the top,” he finds exactly the right level for each precarious moment.

He is marvelously equaled by others in the cast; Lexie Plath is spot on as Inga, his Transylvanian love match. She is absolutely lovely, sings beautifully, and has a wonderful comedic flair. The handling of the song and the action in the hilarious “Roll in Ze Hay” is flawless. She and Jolly turn a cart full of hay into the funniest suggestive love scene imaginable (with kudos, of course, to both the choreographer, Cameron Turner, and the director, Brad Lyons).

Matthew Webb’s Igor (Eyegor, that is) gives solid support as Freddie’s hunchbacked buddy; Allison Hunt (from Indianapolis via Western Michigan University) has both the gorgeous body and glorious voice to be long remembered in the role of Elizabeth Benning, Freddie’s New York love; and Analisha Santini was an appropriately wild and weird Frau Blucher; and special mention goes to Grant Alexander Brown in the double roles of Inspector Kemp and the Blind Hermit. His physicalization of the Inspector was ingenious and never wavered; and his singing of the Hermit’s ballad “Please Send Me Someone” allowed just enough of the beauty of the melody to be appreciated through the comic styling.

Congratulations to Blake W. Price, also from Western Michigan University, for creating a “lovable” monster, green but not too gross throughout, and then making us love him all the more when he becomes the happy-go-lucky chorus line finale star, in huge 8-inch clunky soled shoes! Welcome to TLP, Blake.

Production values were of the usual TLP excellence; special effects “special”; costumes from Batavia’s All Dressed Up great, except for that unimaginative Hermit robe and wig (even quick changes deserve creativity).

Not enough credit is ever given to the professional musicians who are the backbone of any musical. Michael Uselmann and his crew deserve appreciation and praise for subtle, but solid, musical foundation throughout.

It’s marvelous to have the much-loved Brad Lyons back. His handling of this difficult to “keep in balance” style was impeccable. Kudos to Artistic Director James Beaudry for inviting him back.

The New Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein plays through this coming Sunday, July 13. For information: (815) 244-2035 or admin@timberlakeplayhouse.org.

From the July 9-15, 2014, issue

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