Monstrously Good YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at The Candlelight Theatre

by John Muller

At the Candlelight Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, the new Mel Brooks musical, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN opened to a sold out crowd. With a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, it was sure to be a comedy feast. The Candlelight Theatre’s production is directed and choreographed by Peter John Rios with musical direction from Hana Cai. This is certainly a team that had high energy, good pacing and side splitting laughs in store for the audience.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a musical version of the film starring Gene Wilder. With show stopping numbers in the first act like “Please Don’t Touch Me”, “Roll in the Hay”, and “He Vas My Boyfriend” the laughs and energy radiated among the crowd and the performers. The story: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced FrankenstEEn) is informed of the death of his uncle in Transylvania and is summoned there to settle his uncle’s estate. While there, he meets Igor (his soon to be trusty advisor), Inga (his soon to be assistant) and Frau Blucher (cue the horse whiney). Together they convince Dr. Frankenstein to pick up the scientific work that his uncle had been doing before his demise. The village is angry, the fiancée shows up, a monster is born, and the hilarity takes flight.

If you have never been to the Candlelight Theatre, it’s a dinner theatre. Before the show the actors serve as wait staff, while the patrons enjoy a home cooked buffet style meal. The room was a-buzz as every seat was filled and patrons anxiously awaited the opening of the show. As the music began to play, we were transported to Transylvania.

This ensemble cast works brilliantly together. Led by Anthony Connell (Frederick Frankenstein), Victoria Healy (Frau Blucher), Samantha Morrone (Inga) and Chris Trombetta (Igor), this cast creates strong, memorable characters, with pacing that is unmatched. While this entire cast was phenomenal, one of the standouts is Chris Trombetta as Igor. Trombetta is an actor who understands that acting is more than delivering lines. It’s a language that is communicated to an audience who may or may not understand the language. Through convincing body language and facial expressions, Trombetta captures the iconic character of Igor, mimicking Marty Feldman (original film actor to play this role) in all the right places, clearly communicating with the audience and inviting them on this wildly funny ride. Another standout performance, for similar reasons, is Christian Ryan as Ziggy, the village idiot. Ryan also uses body language and facial expression to his advantage that made this reviewer laugh (uncontrollably at times) until tears streamed down my face.

Musical direction can be a tricky aspect of any musical show, especially if you do not have the right singers for the roles. This, of course, was not the case for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Because the show was superbly cast, the vocals on the songs were top notch. Anthony Connell’s voice is amazing. Connell has the ability to belt out a big number and draw it back in for a soft moment, leaving the audience wanting to hear more. As an actor, accents are difficult to pull off well. I have seen many shows where I felt the show just died because of the awful accents. Now, try putting these accents together and use them while singing – no small task. Again, this cast, led by outstanding musical direction by Hana Cai, seems to be able to do it all. Samantha Morrone (Inga) had to make use of a very thick Slavic accent, yet every line and lyric was delivered with precision. The audience got every word. In the same category is Victoria Healy (Frau Blucher) whose Slavic vernacular was spot on.

Choreography for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is another area where perfection was the standard of the evening. Every choreographed piece within the show is brilliant and flawlessly executed, especially the group tap number that you will have to see to believe. I have seen some pretty excellent foot work on the Candlelight stage; however, this is the best I have ever witnessed!

Set and lighting design are perfect and fit the show very well. Even when there was a set malfunction right before the “brain transfer”, it fit the overall mood of the show, and the actors quickly adjusted. The audience had no choice but to believe that this is exactly as it was supposed to happen.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Kat Lee (Elizabeth Benning) and David McConney (the Monster). Without these two brilliant actors much of the hilarity would not have been complete in this production. Lee’s and McConney’s luminous comedic timing tied together this wonderful, wildly funny, and superbly professional production.

The Candlelight Theatre’s production of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN runs through February 22nd.

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed by Peter John Rios
January 17 – February 22, 2015
The Candlelight Theatre
2208 Millers Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19810

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