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IT’S ALIVE! Laughter and parody come to life in Mel Brooks’ stage version of ‘Young Frankenstein’

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Mel Brooks’ classic parody on the monster-movie-turned-musical, ‘Young Frankenstein,’ will open at Thalian Hall’s Main Stage this weekend—a Frankentale debuting just in time for Halloween.

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“You’re putting me on,” Igor tells Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, upon their first encounter.

“No, it’s pronounced ‘Fronk-en-steen.’”

“You must be Eee-gore,” Dr. Frankenstein responds.

“No, it’s pronounced ‘Eye-gore,” the hunchbacked Igor maintains.

HOMAGE TO GARR: Courtney Poland will be bringing Inga to life in homage to Terri Garr’s original character in the ‘70’s film, “Young Frankenstein.” Courtesy photo

HOMAGE TO GARR: Courtney Poland will be bringing Inga to life in homage to Terri Garr’s original character in the ‘70’s film, “Young Frankenstein.” Photo by Mark Steelman

So goes the nuanced brilliancy of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s writing of the 1974 horror-film parody, “Young Frankenstein” (“YF”), based on Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece and the 1934 Kenneth Strickfaden film, “Frankenstein.” “Young Frankenstein” became a Broadway musical in 2007, with book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks. The film farce royal was hoping to find the same success with “YF” as he did with another of his film-to-stage hits, “The Producers.” Yet, “YF” saw over 400 performances before closing on January 4, 2009, whereas “The Producers” ran for over 2,000 productions.

Still, there is a lot of fun to be had in Brooks’ musical: low-brow humor, perfect for stage antics, catchy tunes, and a cryptically fun story about the grandson of a mad scientist returning to his family’s estate in Transylvania, to attempt to raise the dead with his own creation. The show will come to life on Thalian’s stage for two weekends only, just in time for the spookiest month of the year, as produced by Thalian Association. It’s also a debut in Wilmington, directed by Mike Thompson, and starring Troy Rudeseal (Dr. Frankenstein), Michael Savas (Igor), Courtney Poland (Inga), and Christopher Rickert (Monster).

“I just love how silly the whole thing is,” Thompson tells. “The script really allows the actors to play and find fun ways to stretch themselves physically and as comedians.”

There are variations from the screen version, including modified jokes, or some that have even been cut or replaced—but many notable one-liners have stayed in place. “Humor onstage is a lot different than humor on film,” Thompson continues. Though some may immediately think of over-the-top dramatics, Poland notes a level of subtlety that exists beyond the slapstick version seen onscreen.

“There are several lines in the show where I feel like I’m just waiting for the ‘ba dum tss,’” she explains, “but we are not trying to overly emphasize the jokes. So the audience really has to pay attention, or they may miss something.”

“There’s nowhere [Brooks] won’t go to make a joke,” Savas adds. “He is often able to make a dirty joke in a clean way, to the point sometimes the audience doesn’t even realize what they are really laughing at.”

“Young Frankenstein” absolutely comes with its own dose of physical acting, too, which can challenge any actor. Whether walking with a hump, or showcasing the monstrous, clumsy, even slow gait of a very large creature, part of the appeal to actors is venturing into new territory of their craft—challenging themselves while also testing the audience’s boundaries of emotional and logical intellect.

“A large frame and less friendly demeanor don’t necessarily make a monster,” Rickert says of his character. “Even the most physically daunting among us face internal battles and demons that can turn a hulking monster into a scaredy cat. It’s the old book-by-a-cover lesson. The monster is never really overtly aggressive or evil; he is usually just misunderstood and triggered by his own fears.”

Aside from taunting horror-film tropes, Brooks managed to make the overt “scary” rather alluring and charismatic in his characters. Savas’ Igor will be presented with simple charm.

“I feel it is an important aspect to play up,” he notes. “He’s like your best friend and your favorite pet wrapped into one person. I’ve enjoyed exploring his fierce loyalty to the doctor and the work they are pursuing, while also being protective of his own way of life. He’s kind and caring, but you’ll always want him on your side in a fight. “

While Poland and Rudeseal will be living up to comic royalty of Terri Garr and Gene Wilder, neither are attempting a recreation of the famed characters. Poland, especially, is approaching the role and its apparent sex appeal as an homage instead. She plans on amping up Inga’s spunk from the original version.

“Inga is much more of a free-spirit than I am,” Poland says, “and playing this character is helping me realize how important it is to try and enjoy the moment.”

The stage version of “Young Frankenstein” will be choreographed by Tina Leak,  with music led by an eight-piece orchestra with Denice Hopper at the helm.

“All of the songs are definitely classic musical theatre style,” Thompson adds.  “And of course we have Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin on the Ritz.’”

Standard horror sound effects—thunder /lightning, wolves howling, mob scenes—make their way in as well, with set design also coming to life from the hands of the doctor himself, Troy Rudeseal.

A Mel Brooks Musical:
Young Frankenstein
Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and Oct. 6-8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall • 301 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $3o

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