REVIEW: You’ll ‘roll in zee hay’ (and zee aisles) for BAT’s ‘Young Frankenstein’!
Review by Shelli Park
Burien Actors Theatre has squeezed every last precious resource, human and other, from their reserves to bring another wonderful production to the South End. To open their 2013-14 season, BAT presents Young Frankenstein, the new musical by Mel Brooks, directed by Steve Cooper.
Mr. Brooks is a funny and irreverent man who never fails to entertain. If you are familiar with his film of the same title, released in 1974, you know that you are in for a ride. And a roll in the hayride, at that!!
BAT has assembled a great cast and design team to pull off what director Steve Cooper calls, in his Director’s Notes, a “Big Broadway Musical”:
“This show was only very recently opened up to non-professional theaters such as ours, and bringing it to our stage has not been without its challenges… There are a large number of songs and a very large number of company dance numbers…I am very happy with what we have managed to come up with and I hope that you are as well.”
The set for Young Frankenstein is technically and aesthetically the most accomplished design and build I have seen at BAT. Nathan Rodda has thought of everything. He uses each square foot economically, using space in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Four three-sided, wheeled monoliths erected and spaced across center stage brilliantly function as major scene-changing elements. Old school chalkboards wheeled in by lab coat-wearing scientists create an impromptu classroom. Cast choreography for moving the stage pieces was a great element. Far stage right hosts the band, set up above the action. Under the band, Rodda carved out a space for a cozy cave. Far stage left utilizes a turntable to create the famous secret passageway comedic scene and becomes a lonely hermit’s hovel in Act II. The scenic paint team is very skilled and has clearly taken great care in rendering the stonework and other textures.
Cooper immerses the audience in the action as the whole theater becomes the stage. Movement and voices, at times, can come from behind and down the sides of the seating to create a full, multidimensional experience.
The lab is especially wonderful, the experiment platform rising two stories above the stage. A stone stairway leads up to the famous bed from which the monster rises. David Baldwin’s set piece is incredible! The scenes played in this space feel monumental, a feeling which is sustained and carried by the voices of the actors.
I have a hard time knowing where to start in my comments on the actors. This is a tight cast.
Frederick Frankenstein has to be played by an actor whose skills live up to the scope of the work. Andrew Galteland doesn’t need any extra electricity to enliven his performance. He balances seriousness with the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. He has a solid voice, and dances with skill in the role of a stiff scientist, visibly loosening up as his character comes into his own as true member of the Frankenstein legacy.
Helen Roundhill, who plays Elizabeth Benning, Frankenstein’s fiancé, creates an amazing narcissistic socialite! She packs so much punchy self-absorption in that petite body. Roundhill titillates in the musical number “Please Don’t Touch Me”. And once she is loosened up a bit in a monster mash, she oozes with easy sensuality.
Igor is such an iconic character that a poor casting could have been the weak link in the production. No such tragedy here. Jalyn Green was cast as the hilarious servant whose brain delivery slip-up brings us all a lesson in the transformative powers of love. Green has great timing, which is everything in comedy. His presence brings a grounding balance to the ensemble.
The lovely Marissa Ryder, who plays Inga, Frankenstein’s lab assistant, has an amazing voice. She commands the “Roll in the Hay” with perfect comedic wonder. She plays the ideal helpmate to Frankenstein and her presence is a great counterpoint to uber-stiff Frau Blucher.
Fully immersed in stereotypical German gothic structure, Alicia Mendez excels as Frau Blucher. Her performance of “He Vas My Boyfriend” left me feeling sad for her loss, and disturbed by her masochistic enjoyments. Wonderful!
And then there is Inspector Kemp. Thank you, Nathaniel Jones, for your performance. The self-important keeper of the town of Transylvania is intent on bringing final restful peace to his town plagued by the maniacal Frankenstein family. Jones’ stature, presence, and accent are all I could want from zis Inspector.
BAT could still use consistently tight ensembles. I have noticed, in the last few musicals, a feeling of lost continuity and flow of the production in the ensemble work. This is a perfectionist point and is not realistic for a small theater, I know. But as BAT grows and develops into a tighter theater organization, I hope that all supporting cast can buttress the production in a more successful manner.
The band is great! They are skilled musicians. I particularly enjoyed the oboe (I certainly hope I got that instrument right)(Tim Webster), and violin (Aimee Hong). The accompaniment was just right in that they held the production together musically, but didn’t overwhelm or overplay.
It is such a treat to be able to drive five minutes to experience great theater. Thank you Burien Actor’s Theatre (formerly Burien Little Theatre) for all of the time that you put into procuring rights for quality productions, and the sweat dedicated to make sure that the production lives up to its reputation. Once again, I say we have a gem in Burien Actor’s Theatre.
Go. See. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. At Burien Actors Theatre at the Annex, located at 14501 4th Ave. SW.
Get tickets here – http://click4tix.com/
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Here are some photos by Mike Wilson of the production (click images to see larger versions):