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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Young Frankenstein’ a whole lot of fun

St. Norbert College Knight Theatre romps in the Mel Brooks musical.

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Like Peter Pan, Mel Brooks never quite grew up. Stuff like his musical “Young Frankenstein” brims with his forever-young playfulness – plays on words, suggestiveness/sexiness, oddball characters, serious characters swept into ridiculousness, zest for fun and a general “why not?” take on creativity. St. Norbert College Knight Theatre runs with all that and puts on a marvelous production of “Young Frankenstein” with big splashes of verve.

If you have a chance, try to catch one of the four remaining performances through Sunday, Feb. 2, in the college’s Webb Theatre. Info: tickets.snc.edu.

In “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” (official title), Mel Brooks re-invents his goofy movie of the same name, which re-invents the cult classic Frankenstein movies of the ’30s. The latest Dr. Frankenstein (Fronken-STEEN, he insists) is the brilliant grandson of the creature maker, who has just, to put it in Mel Brooks terminology, passed on and even died. Fronken-STEEN heads over to Transylvania and meets up with the indelible characters, hunchbacked (or not) Eye-gore; comely Inga, his soon-to-be assistant, etc.; Goth housekeeper Frau Blucher (neighhhhh); seething townsfolk led by a guy who paid and arm and a leg (really) for life-saving surgery; and, of course, The Monster (who speaks the immortal line, “Puddenonarizzz”). Left behind is Fronken-STEEN’s fiancé, Elizabeth, whose matchless view of romance can’t be touched (literally). I’m chuckling as I write all this silliness. You really should go see this show. Winter’s been awfully long, and we’re probably not even halfway through. Give yourself a comical break.

Key credits

Creators: Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks; original choreography by Susan Stroman.

Knight Theatre: President/producers, Marcia LaSalle, Stephanie Villanova; director, Madison Galloway; vocal director, Matthew Christoff; pit orchestra director, Brian Anderson; choreographer (tap dancing too!), Meredith Pointer; set design, Andrea Fietzer.

Cast

Frederick Frankenstein, Logan Thomas

Inga, Zephyr Ciesar

Frau Blücher, Erika Jahnke

Inspector Kemp, Everette Berchmans

Elizabeth Benning, Sadie Smith

The Monster, Sean Topacio

Victor von Frankenstein, Ryan Penkal

Ziggy, Larry March

The Hermit, Tanner Lundquist

Mr. Hilltop, Brian Falk

Telegraph Boy, Meredith Pointer

Steward, Morgan Anshutz

Shoeshine Boy, Samantha Kolb

Count Dracula, Benny Behnke

Barbershop singers (right on), Ryan Penkal, Larry March, Brian Falk, Tanner Lundquist, Everette Berchmans

Entourage, Samantha Kolb, Kelly Anderson, Kasara Sinkula, Meaghan Dressel, Morgan Anshutz

Mad Scientists, Natalee Cunningham, Lauren Gantebein, Kelsey Upchurch

Songs

“The Happiest Town in Town” – Kemp and Villagers

“The Brain” – Frederick and Students

“Please Don’t Touch Me” – Elizabeth and Voyagers

“Together Again (for the First Time)” – Frederick and Igor

“Roll in the Hay” – Inga, Frederick, and Igor

“Join the Family Business” – Victor, Frederick and Ancestors

“He Vas My Boyfriend” – Frau Blücher

“The Law” – Kemp and Villagers

“Life, Life” – Frederick, Igor, Inga and Blücher

“Welcome to Transylvania” – Transylvania Quartet (but five sing)

Transylvania Mania” – Igor, Frederick, Inga, Kemp and Villagers

“He’s Loose” – Kemp and Villagers

“Listen to Your Heart” – Inga

“Surprise” – Elizabeth, Igor, Blücher, and Entourage

“Please Send Me Someone” – The Hermit

“Man About Town” – Frederick

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) – Frederick, The Monster, Inga, Igor and Ensemble

“Deep Love” – Elizabeth

Frederick’s Soliloquy” – Frederick

“Deep Love” (Reprise) – The Monster

“Finale Ultimo” – The Company

The cast is sprinkled with members of the college’s show troupe, Knights on Broadway, and campus choral groups, so some of the overall performing flair may come through osmosis.

Logan Thomas carries a load (skillfully) as the driven Frederick Frankenstein. Zephyr Ciesar, Sadie Smith and Erika Jahnke are a blast with their different takes on sensuality. Noah Reif leaps in to the zany role of Igor (Eye-gore). Sean Tapacio is a BIG hit as The Monster.

Energy continues through the ensemble, which adds flashes of downright humor, acrobatics and dance routines.

This is the 20th anniversary of Knight Theatre, and the 2014 show is a humdinger among a bunch of strong productions.

At St. Norbert, “student-run” and “student company” mean serious effort. In this case, it means there are bundles of fun to be had, too. (4½ stars out of 5)

THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The Webb stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action. This production uses the aisles for entries and exits, meaning all the theater’s a stage.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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