[Vancouver, B.C.] Young Frankenstein: Poster Boy for Transylvania Tourism

5 Oct

By Ed Sum and James Robert Shaw

YoungFrankensteinOctober 4-6, 10-13, 2013
Waterfront Theatre

E: Who doesn’t love the oh so misunderstood monster? Young Frankenstein, directed by Chance Newman (Evil Dead: The Musical – Northwest edition), is a classic film by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder; they playfully gave the original Mary Shelly tale a comedic spin that many audiences adored. And Brooks gave the story a great re-imagining that even works on the Broadway stage on a burlesque style level. Although the show began its run in 2007 and it received mixed reviews by bigger name critics, that did not deter James and I from traveling to Vancouver to see a version done by the performers of Last Chance Productions.

In what we saw was a toe tapping romance and I thought this musical was a tribute to the era when Gershwin was hugely popular. To see it played in a smaller venue, I thought people sitting in “Laboratory Row” (the first seven rows) can get intimate with the performers.

J: It was marred by first-run hiccups ranging from audio problems to props being misplaced or not working at all. But apart from it all I had very little to complain about. If I wanted to nitpick I could say that even the chorus or extras on stage need to remember that they should put more emphasis in their performance. Just because they are in the background doesn’t mean we can’t see their range of emotions. One of the chorus girls either knew this or suffered from center stage envy. She stood out among fellow extras by giving it her all and shining brightly. There was a point in the song “Please Don’t Touch Me” where she made an expression that almost caused me to burst out laughing. A gold star for you my dear.

E: Igor (Ashton Lundy) was outstanding. The cross gender thing must be catching since its often done for effect. In this show, that made this version of the character unusually spritely in a good way. Another standout was Inga (Stacy Reynolds). She really got into the role by the second half of the show. The pacing was far better. The action was not quite there in the first.

Of the songs, the numbers that stood out for me was “Transylvania Mania” and “Please Send Me Someone.”

J: Transylvania Mania was certainly a great jazzed up number participated in by the entire cast but “Please Send Me Someone” had to be the best number. I’m glad this scene was translated from the film to the stage; the number is classic Brooks/Wilder and like many excellent comedy films (Monty Python & the Holy Grail), it has many quotable lines that fans will repeat long after both writers have left this Earth for comedy heaven.

Many in the cast shined and it was hard to pick out my favourites. Dr. Frankenstein (Chance Newman) was a good combination of Gene Wilder and Gabe Kaplan, I saw Kaplan’s cable special, A Night with Groucho, and there were echoes of that in the Dr. Frankenstein role.

Lundy’s portrayal as Igor can be compared to watching a kid in a candy store. Each sweet laugh only seemed to fuel her performance as I watched unfold what I could only describe as a comedy sugar high. Reynolds’ role as Inga showed she could emit a European hotness with not only her blonde locks but her accent as well. But don’t let the whistles from the audience fool you, the actress was more than just a pretty face. She was the perfect girlfriend (or is that lab assistant?) to Dr. Frankenstein. Her ability to competently yodel during the “Roll In the Hay number” made it memorable.

The Inspector Kemp (Gavin Annette) character of stage is a watered down version of the film. It’s not the actor’s fault. It’s the adaptation of script. Kemp becomes more of a glorified extra than a main character. All the character does is to sheep herd the townspeople while occasionally lifting his arm for an attempt at comic effect. Annette could have stayed true to the Kenneth Mars original but during his performance I saw a glint of Richard Gibson’s Herr Otto Flick from the TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo. It would’ve been a delight to see the crossover. Regardless of this actor’s noble attempts to shine as Kemp his secondary character of the Blindman vindicated him.

E: I have to agree about the Hermit. His solo number was outstanding and I had to wonder how many people in the cast had trained in opera? Even though the Waterfront Theatre is a mid-sized venue and we sat at the front row, I think no one would have had problems being heard at the back.

The only shame I found was that the music was being played on a mono speaker system. I had a taste of being a sound tech and designer for a production (Ghosts of the Plaza) and I believe a proper sound experience is always important. But every venue is going to be different. The ballroom I was in charge of had its speakers properly arranged, but the other rooms were not (the play I was involved in required audiences to move from room to room). In a proper theatre, shouldn’t the chamber at least be set up for stereo sound?

Technical squabbles aside, at least I thoroughly enjoyed hearing everyone sing. I could hear the performers sell the music more than the pre-recorded music provide the oomph. At least “Welcome to Transylvania,” a bartender quartet-style number, showed this theatre has great acoustics.

I hope this show will be touring some more … and maybe consider hitting the island (Victoria). I wrote an article for 28DLA (and updated it for publication in Absolute Underground Magazine) about this theatre troupe about how they brought Evil Dead to the Pacific Northwest, and I love them for the fact that they are quite active. They have brought more of the Broadway style horror musical comedies to the region than any other group that I’m aware of. Once every couple of years, Rocky Horror or Little Shop of Horrors will get produced in Victoria.

J: Yes, Victoria definitely needs more theatre. We’re a theatre city and it shows (if given the chance). We have some great companies here now (Theatre Inconnu, Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Giggling Iguana Productions) and we had some great companies then (Capital Comedy Theatre, Claymar Productions and Bastion Theatre).

And I can’t write a review without at least mentioning the Frankenstein monster or the actor who portrayed him. Erik Gibson was a perfect merging of the two not only for the man’s size (he appeared larger than life on stage) but for his ability to make me laugh along with him and then to make me feel for him in the next scene.

Like Frau Blücher’s violin, my heartstrings were played. And like the monster of this play, I was compelled to follow the beautiful music to its source.

3½ out of 5

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