by Jack Shaw

The Ritz’s YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (Franken-steen) plays even funnier today. It’s a show that keeps you talking about it and laughing all the way home. You know the obvious bits and telegraphed jokes. A few groaners, but nothing falls flat. Still, we can’t help the giggling.

Fans and devotees of the original, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the 1931 film based on it will love it. It’s campy and delightful. It’s Mel Brooks. And it’s alive!

The classic “Puttin’ on the Ritz” nearly “steals the show” from a show that was already terrific. That one musical number, plays to the hilt with so much creative gumption, making a simple very recognizable and already fun number unforgettable. Excellently choreographed and energetic tap is so hard to find. And, let’s face it. Who doesn’t know the song and get into it. I expected a standing ovation at the end of it, and the only reason it didn’t happen was because the show was far from over.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE MEL BROOKS MUSICAL is a madcap comedy with deliberate overacting and shtick. There is juxtaposition with song and situation. Hilarious, too. But that’s Brooks. As a spoof on the horror genre, no one does it better than Mel. There’s no need to recap the story because everyone knows the story, horror fans or not. A reminder: it’s not really for young children because of the sexual innuendo and content. Surprisingly, violence is not a factor. Smile.

With Ritz Theatre’s production, when you aren’t laughing, you’re smiling all the time at what seems to be an inside joke with the audience. Director Matt Reher cleverly put this show together with great talent, using the fantastic lights and sound to direct us—even divert us from the scene changing in the shadows. Angela Lynn Wertner’s 30s-style choreography was amazing. Her husband, Andy Wertner’s role as Inspector Kemp set the tone admirably.

Every eye followed Jenny Knackstedt with her engaging portrayal of Elisabeth Benning, young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein’s fiancée. She interacts with the audience, using the great comic timing and the same beautiful singing we always receive from her. A wink from her speaks volumes. Did I mention her in the red dress? Wow! And with the voice of an angel. When she walked in with her red dress and that mischievous smile, the audience knows it’s in for a treat. She’s not on the stage as often as the other main characters, but each time, we follow her every slinky, sexy move. She gives new meaning to the song, “Deep Love”.

But this show has two bombshells, each stunning, voluptuous, and enormous talents. The other bombshell is Megan Pisors’, Inga—a perfect ditz, but oozing sex, verbally and physically–acting with her body (also, wow!) as naturally as she sang and danced, making sure we see all her delightful physical attributes—especially her legs. The focus on legs as a projection of sexiness goes right back to the thirties.

Judy Lawrence O’Conner as “Frau Blaucher,” the stern, strange, and mysterious housekeeper cracks everyone up with her song, “He Vas My Boyfriend.” She’s an immediate sinister presence on the stage.

The rest of the cast stands out in its own right. “Frederick Frankenstein” (Ernie Jewell) was “on” the entire time, and amazingly kept his character and performance fresh. Doug Atkins took a stereotypical role in “Igor” (Eye-gore) and gave it even more with his great comic timing. Even the monster (David McConney) is a hoot. This you have to see for yourselves.

There are times in the show where the audience has to “wait for it,” but “IT” delivers the laughs no matter how hard it is for us to hold back.

With a show like this, you expect a gloomy beginning, but not here. I loved the beginning, but it’s a surprise so I won’t give it away here.

Meanwhile, what I can tell you is that the set is grim, oddly humorous in its simplicity and juxtaposition of a very elaborate design, i.e., Frankenstein’s laboratory. More importantly, the set is versatile enough for the actors to make scene changes quickly and smoothly, often before our eyes. Frankenstein’s laboratory is complete with flashing lights and moving fluids. Nice touches, too. Like the door has two great “knockers.” See, everything with a smile.

Director Matt Lehrer, whom many of us know for his consistently great performances in other comedy musicals, brings his love of theatre with energy and creativity to this show with amazing results. His ensemble is terrific, too. The things that usually go wrong on opening night did, but not to a distracting effect. The lighting was not always right on, but close. For me, the sound wavered a bit light at times. All easy fixes; it was opening night after all. All the technical folks deserve kudos for enhancing this oddly complex and immensely satisfying show.

I would say bring the whole family, but… I brought my sixteen-year-old son, and he loved it as well.

Directed by Matt Reher
July 10 – August 3, 2014
Ritz Theatre Company
915 White Horse Pike
Haddon Township, NJ 08137

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