By Kay Kipling
As a fan who’s watched the Mel Brooks classic comedy Young Frankenstein a number of times, I was a little bit worried before going to see the Manatee Players production of his musical version of the same. After all, how can you complete with memories of Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn and every other actor who provided such indelible comic performances in the film? And besides, the show didn’t exactly garner raves (or much box office) on Broadway.
I needn’t have worried, though, because the show I saw in Bradenton was still a lot of fun, if perhaps feeling a little overstuffed with musical numbers at times. (That’s a relative feeling; there are certainly other musicals with just as many.) It got off to a fairly roaring start once we met the original Dr. Frankenstein’s descendant, Frederick (Brian F. Finnerty), who rhapsodizes about The Brain at almost the same moment he’s packing his bags for Transylvania to see the castle he’s inherited and trying to keep his hands off his frigid, narcissistic fiancée, Elizabeth (Danae DeShazer).
And once at the castle, we get the best of Brooks and Wilder’s lines and situations, from those horses shrieking every time the name of housekeeper Frau Blucher (Karen Lalosh) is mentioned to the creation of that famous monster (William Masuck), his subsequent escape, his visit with a well-meaning blind hermit, and so on.
Director-choreographer Dewayne Barrett and musical director J.J. Novembrini have kept things moving along in a bright, lively fashion, with the ensemble of lead actors all working well together and on their own, leading up to the highlight Puttin’ on the Ritz number with Frederick and that suave Monster. Finnerty wisely doesn’t try to imitate Wilder as Frederick in any way, but he’s got his own manic energy to work with, and he’s well matched by DeShazer (who’s hysterical in her tryst with the Monster), Andrea Wright as the va-va-voom Inga, and Mark Netherly as Igor, who really looks and sounds the way you want the signature hunchbacked character to. Throw in some over-the-top (if anything can be over the top with Brooks) emoting by Lalosh and good support by Robert Austin as the rabble-rousing Inspector Kemp and Tom Westlake as the fumbling hermit, and it all adds up to a sizable number of laughs.
Sure, a number or two could probably be eliminated from the score (thereby cutting the running down from its 2 ½ hours-plus), but what succeeds with Young Frankenstein succeeds strongly enough to make it worth viewing. It continues onstage through Nov. 10; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.