by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea opened its 2013-14 season with Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”, which runs through October 12. Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit playersbythesea.org.
In the past several years, Players has presented many excellent musicals, and has been especially good at wild and wacky musicals that have been wildly successful crowd pleasers. “Bat Boy, The Musical”, “The Full Monty”, and “Reefer Madness” are three that immediately come to mind.
“Young Frankenstein” can join this distinguished list. It is fun and polished, with an excellent cast. The show is based on Mel Brooks’ 1974 black and white movie of the same name. The film has achieved cult status, is available at public libraries, and can frequently be seen on cable television. Brooks wrote the music and lyrics for this musical adaptation, which opened on Broadway in 2007. At a cost of $16,000,000 and with premier seats on opening nights priced at $450, it was famous even before the first song was sung.
The musical follows the film very closely, with many of the same jokes, but with songs and dancing added. Set in 1934 in Transylvania, it concerns Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, played by ROBERT PELAIA, who is excellent, matching his outstanding performance last season in the hit “Avenue Q”. He is the grandson of Victor Frankenstein, played by the very campy BLAKE OSNER, who is in fine voice. The now-deceased Victor was a brilliant but mad scientist, able to breathe life into dead flesh. Frederick visits the castle to settle his family’s estate but becomes enamored with his ancestor’s experiments and decides it is his duty to continue with his endeavors and “joins the family business.”
The story of Frankenstein as created by Mary Shelly in her famous novel is well known, so we will leave the rest of the story for you to discover, except to report that yes, he does create a monster, a very large monster, with humorous results as envisioned by Mel Brooks. And while there is very little language, there are a number of sexually suggestive double entendres, so it’s not a play for small kids.
This show is loaded with colorful characters . The hunchback Igor, Victor’s original assistant has the duty of finding a body and a brain for the new creation. JOE WALZ handles this demanding role with hilarious results, as he dances and sings for two hours while bent at the waist to portray Igor’s physical disability.
Inga (SARA BETH SUMMERS) is Frederick’s sexy lab assistant. Ms Summers is a beauty who can sing and yodel up a storm. She recently appeared in Theatre Jacksonville’s “9 to5: The Musical” and received a Best Leading Actress Award. Her song “A Roll in the Hay”, with Igor and Frederick, was a show stopper.
PATTI MENEFEE is making her first stage appearance in eighteen years as Frau Blucher, the castle’s mysterious housekeeper who was in love with Victor. We can overlook the absence of her wonderful talents from the stage as she has been busy being a wife, mother, student, and acupuncture physician. Her song “He Vas My Boyfriend” was one of our favorites.
Elizabeth, Frederick’s fiancée, a rich heiress, is played by KATIE SWIDER, who not only impresses us with her singing but with a fashion show of lovely gowns. Elizabeth is openly promiscuous, or so she says in her songs, but not with Frederick; she refuses to let him even touch her. She does discover “Deep Love” in a song with another suitor in Act II.
Another award winning actor (this show is loaded with them), DAVID GILE, who recently completed a role in “The Pitman Painters”, is back on stage as the relentless policeman chasing Fredrick’s newly created monster. He is without fear even though he lost an arm and a leg pursuing Victor’s original monster.
As the blind lonely hermit who befriends the monster, ROB BANKS has a terrific solo number, “Please Send Me Someone” and one of funniest bits in the show occurs when he invites the monster for supper, wine and a cigar. Rounding out the identified featured players is JON FINE, as the village idiot, a role he played to perfection.
Reportedly as a tribute to the screen credits in the original movie, the name of the actor playing the MONSTER is appears in the program as a question mark, and his biography has been left out of the program as well. The Dual Critics will respect this omission. We will write that you have seen him in “Sordid Lives”, “Amadeus”, and a dozen other plays. If a play with Moses or Abraham Lincoln is planned for our local stages, he will probably be doing those roles as well, he is that talented. A marvelously funny, really sinister-looking monster (with appearance enhanced by makeup artist Jake Gianforti) who can sing and dance and will really tickle your funny bone.
The male and female ensembles are sensational. The members appear in many supporting roles and also do some terrific singing and dancing, wearing various costumes and using various props. They include ASHLEY AUGUSTYNIAK, THERESA BUCHANAN, MEGAN GEORGEO, LAUREN HOCKENBURY, HANNAH MORGAN, LAUREL WILSON, NOAH BENNETT, BARRETT CUTTS, DAVID SCOTT AND CRAIG WICKLESS.
Do be aware while there is very little language, there are a number of sexually suggestive double entendres, so it’s not a play for small kids.
JOCELYN GERONIMO, who was the Musical Director for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, has taken the role of Choreographer and created visually exciting dance routines.
The crew includes MATT MORGAN as Vocal Director, ANNIE GARNER and ANNA LEVIN as Stage Managers, Musical Director, STEVE CHAPMAN, Lighting Designer JIM WIGGINS, and Costume Designer LEE HAMBY.
The set design is by local architect TAT CHAN, who is making his debut with Players with this musical. The set is based around a massive, if crumbling castle, and flagstone flooring, and includes multiple changes to portray locales that include a dungeon, laboratory, forest, a New York medical school classroom, and a train station.
Hamby obviously had fun with the many costumes, that included black robes enlivened with touches of red, stylish dresses from the flapper era, formal gowns, garb for lowly villagers, a tailored suit for Fredrick, and white laboratory coats.
Director Shirley Sacks has had an amazing record of directing award winning musicals over the past several years. She is also a fine actress but between her full time job of teaching acting at Stanton College Preparatory, and her theatre directing all over the city, she has a difficult time finding time to perform. She had as her Assistant Director BRADLEY AKERS, who directed “Dog Sees God”, a play that was selected as Players by the Sea’s best of the 2012-13 season.
We recommend you make sure to experience this wild time with old Frankenstein.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM