Horror is a genre where the parody is as popular as the target itself. Beginning this past Friday, Apr. 4, DramaTech began its production of Young Frankenstein, a musical that pays homage to the classic Frankenstein movies starring Boris Karloff. A worthy successor to the original production, it features strong musical and acting performances against a fairly minimalist, yet believable, production backdrop.
The best satire often doubles as great homage. Artists in general have created an entire genre dedicated to skewering their favorite works with loving criticism. Writer and director Mel Brooks has partly made a career out of this activity through works such as the Western homage Blazing Saddles and the Star Wars parody Spaceballs.
Young Frankenstein is probably the finest example of this trend, a loving tribute to the horror genre and filmmaking in the Classic Era of Hollywood.
The plot focuses on Dr. Victor von Frankenstein, the grandson of the eponymous character in the original Frankenstein, as he attempts to build a career for himself in America separate from his familial identity. The death of his grandfather draws him back into his homeland of Transylvania where the associates of his deceased ancestor as well as the spirits of said ancestors persuade him to re-enter the family business of re-animating the dead. The summoned monster eventually wreaks havoc, forcing Frankenstein and friends to capture the beast in the hope of civilizing it.
Each of the characters fulfills an exaggerated version of a traditional horror archetype. There is Dr. Frankenstein, the irritable and exasperated scientist who tries to do the right thing, as well as Igor, his comic-relief sidekick. Rounding out the main cast are Inga, the yodeling lab assistant, and Frau Blucher, the housekeeper whose name frightens animals whenever spoken. Completing the main cast is the monster himself, who struggles to understand his own existence in a world where nearly everyone wants to kill him.
This motley cast of characters generally balances each other well with most of the humor deriving from quirky puns and sexual innuendo. What the show lacks in terms of themes and story, it more than makes up for through humor, music and all-around good cheer.
DramaTech’s interpretation of this musical is centered around preserving the spirit of the story. Their focus on comedic timing and musical performance enhances what are the most critical parts of the production, since the original story is sparse on character development and thematic content. Their set still manages to capture the tone and atmosphere of the place and milieu. It is primarily an empty space with some very basic doors and shelves in the background to simulate a dingy laboratory. This centerpiece is also surrounded by stairs, which allow the characters to come from both the back and front-end of the set. Due to the small theater size, there are parts where the characters also sit and navigate amongst the audience, to create a more immersive play.
The acting and singing is generally believable and solid. While there are some songs in which the male vocalists sound just slightly cacophonous, these moments are for the most part scarce.
Overall, this is a great production. The strong performances, music and comedic skill remain the driving force of the story, and the jokes are fresh for anyone who has not seen any previous performance of this play. Young Frankenstein will continue to run from now until Saturday Apr. 19.