Young Frankenstein Comes Alive (Well, Sort Of) At Stage West

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Left to Right: Frau Blucher (Jayne Lewis),  Dr.Frederick  Frankenstein (Kevin Dennis), and Inga (Amanda Struthmann). Young Frankenstein, now playing at Stage West until June 26. Photo provided by Stage West.

The hit 1979 film Young Frankenstein, written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder with Brooks directing, parodied Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel Frankenstein all the way to the bank. Nearly three decades later, the film was turned into a Broadway musical with Brooks writing the music and lyrics, and the book with Thomas Meehan.

And now, the musical has landed in Calgary at Stage West, albeit with some loose nuts and bolts.

Directed by J. Sean Elliott, Young Frankenstein stages the story of Victor von Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Kevin Dennis). Living in New York City is perfect for Frederick who wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s legacy of creating monsters. All that changes, however, when Frederick receives news that he has inherited his family’s estate in Transylvania. Frederick travels to Transylvania, leaving behind his fiancee Elizabeth (Adrienne Merrell), and soon befriends Igor (Greg Pember), the grandson of Victor’s own sidekick. The scientist finds a new lab assistant in Inga (Amanda Struthmann), a beautiful young woman with a degree in Laboratory Science.

Tormented by the ghosts of his ancestors, Frederick sets out to create a monster of his own, much to the delight of his grandfather’s former girlfriend Frau Blucher (Jayne Lewis). Unable to contain his creation, The Monster (Adam Stevenson) runs amok in Transylvania.

Young Frankestein features plenty of Broadway flair with its catchy, although not very memorable, musical numbers, choreographed by Phil Nero. Flair alone is not enough to carry the show. Young Frankenstein is a throwback to classic Broadway musicals, but infused with Brooks’ obscene, often deadpan humour that audiences either laugh at or shrug their shoulders. The jokes either sometimes lack subtlety and/or are just plain offensive.

The Monster’s entire schtick is that he was given an ‘abnormal’ brain (instead of a renowned scientist’s brain), resulting in a low intelligence that makes it difficult for him to speak or articulate words properly. The humour of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” (by Irvin Berlin) relies entirely on The Monster’s shouting and screaming of the lyrics. The musical number becomes very uncomfortable when you realize the whole joke is focused on laughing at someone with a disability.

And then there’s the whole bit with the blind hermit that pours hot soup on The Monster…

If audiences can overlook show’s questionable humour, the musical is fairly entertaining thanks to its talented cast. Dennis and Pemper are quite the team as scientist and sidekick, delivering big laughs as they bumble their way through the scientific method together. Struthmann’s pipes make “Roll in The Hay” a fun hayride, yodelling and all. Dressed with large boots, Stevenson stands very tall as The Monster, making his dancing all the more impressive (it’s a long way down!). Lewis really steals the show as Fran Blucher, though, who she plays like a lustful, much sterner Morticia Addams – yes, the horse gag is present, by the way.

Leslie Robinson-Greene’s bright, eye-popping costume designs for the production are marvelous, as are Leon Schwesinger’s set designs. The production looks great under JP Thibodeau’s dynamic stage lighting.

Audiences expecting the film translated beat for beat on the stage will be sorely disappointed as Brooks’ show is an entirely different beast altogether. The fault is not with Stage West, but the adaptation itself. Brooks’ musical numbers do little to sustain the show, besides allowing time for scene changes. The show is not much of a creative departure from the film. Add in the show’s offensive humour, and Young Frakenstein becomes even less appealing. So, what is it? Call it an unnecessary adaptation only fans of Brooks’ signature humour will truly appreciate.

Audiences can miss Stage West’s Young Frankenstein.


Stage West’s Young Frakenstein runs April 22 – June 26.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/young-frankenstein-the-musical-by-mel-brooks/

 

Hijinks Galore: Suite Surrender Lands At Stage West

Diva Wars

Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender runs Feb 12 – April 17 at Stage West. Pictured, left to right: Chantal Perron, Charlie Gould,  Kevin Hare, Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan, and Trevor Rueger. Photo Credit: John Watson.

The war comes home when Hollywood rivals Claudia McFadden (Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan) and Athena Sinclair (Chantal Perron) land at the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender.

That’s what Bernard Dunlop (Kevin Hare), the Palm Beach Royale’s general manager, fears at least, that total war will break out with Claudia and Athena staying in the same hotel. The two divas are at the Palm Beach Royale for a USO fundraiser, and have been given separate rooms, on separate floors, on totally opposite ends of the hotel. All good and well until Bernard realizes that, through some mix up, Claudia and Athena are booked to stay in the same room, the presidential suite.

Uh oh.

Trying to keep the two singers out of each other’s sight is a Herculean task, one that drives Bernard nearly mad. To make matters worse, the Navy is run amok in the hotel, setting ‘small’ fires in the lobby among other mischief. The USO’s fundraiser sponsor Mrs. Everett P. Osgood (Susan Johnston-Collins) tells Bernard to let the boys be, that they’re just blowing off steam. Not exactly what Bernard wants to hear, especially when bumbling bellhops Francis (Adrian Sherpherd) and Otis (Scott Olynek) are doing little to help the situation.

Suite Surrender is a breezy comedy of errors that demands a lightning-fast pace, and director J. Sean Elliott brings exactly that and more to this excellent Stage West production. Once all the pieces fall in place, the show takes off like a fighter jet and delivers non-stop laughs. In fact, the energy is so overwhelming that the set, designed by David Smith, wobbles almost every time a door is shut.

The set has four doors: two for the bedroom, one for the closet, and then the entrance door. As the show’s stakes escalate higher and higher, so does the movement on stage. The actors run in and out of the doors, shutting the doors firmly behind them. The first mishap comes when Hare’s Bernard breaks the closet door, with an unconscious Dora Del Rio (Natascha Girgis) behind it, taking the door off some hinges. The second mishap, one of the bedroom doors is shut and causes drinking glasses to fall high from the adjacent shelf, resulting in broken glass onstage. Very strange that no one thought to better secure the glasses given the onstage action.

The ensemble deals with the mishaps very well, a testament to their talent. Unfazed, the ensemble continue delivering superb performances. Tarhan and Perron are exquisite in their respective roles, each a force to be reckoned with. Perron’s man-hungry Athena pulls attention everywhere she goes with her sultry voice, while Tarhan’s Claudia commands attention with her booming voice and dominating presence. Trevor Rueger’s meek Mr.Pippet, Claudia’s assistant, is a hilarious contrast to Tarhan’s character. (Tarhan, Sherpherd, and Rueger share a great “this is not what it looks like” moment). Hare plays Bernard, the anchor to all the madness, with great delight as he descends further and further into desperation.

Olynek and Sherperd make a great pair together, and always shine in their scenes. Athena’s assistant Murphy is played with a sweet demeanor by Charlie Gould, an actress with great facial expressions. And let’s not forget about the cute dog who plays Mr. Boodles, barks and other dog noises provided by sound designer Michael Gesy, and behaves without issue.

McKeever’s Suite Surrender is a real gut buster. Audiences looking for an uproarious evening at the theatre will not want to miss its run at Stage West. Under Elliott’s direction, the ensemble deliver a whirlwind experience where big, hearty laughs escalate to the kind of laughs that leave people gasping for air.


Stage West’s production of Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender runs Feb 12 – April 17.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/suite-surrender/

 

Stage West Throws it Way Back With ‘80s Solid Gold 2

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The cast of Stage West’s ’80s Solid Gold 2: A Musical Revue, performing Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Imaged provided by Stage West.

The ‘80s are back! Think about it, Donald Trump is in the headlines again, and a Trudeau is Prime Minister. Add in Alberta’s slumping economy, as a result of low oil prices, and it’s almost like the 1980s never went away.

And what would the ‘80s be without all that great music from the ‘big hair, don’t care’ decade?

Written by Howard Pechet & Timothy French, ‘80s Solid Gold 2: A Musical Revue is a compilation of decade defining music. From the hard rock to pop ballads, and those guilty pleasures, the show is a mixtape for just about every ear.

On this musical journey presented by Stage West, the ensemble highlights important events from every year until 1989. Canadian sports trivia wins plenty hoots and hollers, while some trivia about Canadian politics – like Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program – elicits boos and jeers from the audience. The trip down memory lane is punctuated by humour that keeps the evening fun and light hearted.

In this show, colour is absolutely everywhere. In the background, large screens run eye-popping visuals that are reminiscent of early music videos. Bright, outrageous ‘80s fashion makes an appearance, geometric shapes and all.

The challenge for shows like this is, how do you keep a two-hour performance from going stale? French, the show’s director and choreographer, goes big and thinks outside the box. For the show’s Michael Jackson category, the ensemble takes turns playing the King of Pop, going from hit to hit, iconic dance move to iconic dance move, then settling into a unique arrangement of Michael Jackson’s songs. Then later, the men play out every ‘80s teenager’s dream of being a rockstar with songs like Van Halen’s Jump and Here I Go Again by Whitesnake. French’s choreography is a serious throwback to the ridiculous spectacle of ‘80s rock shows.

The cast engages enthusiastically with the songs and audience. The different impersonations of famous singers, like Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, are almost nearly spot-on. Most importantly, though, the ensemble nails the diverse range of vocal styles showcased. The vocals are, unfortunately, hindered by the audio levels, which sound just a bit too sharp at times.

Overall, ‘80s Solid Gold 2 is a wildly entertaining night of everything 1980s. The audience has a blast singing and dancing, as much they can after a full meal, to the greatest hits of the ‘80s as compiled by co-creators Pechet & French. Audiences looking to recapture the spirit of the ‘80s will want to go see Stage West’s ‘80s Solid Gold 2: A Musical Revue.


Stage West’s ’80s Solid Gold 2: A Musical Revue runs Nov 13 – Feb 7, 2016.

Ensemble:
Tzeitel Abrego
Jahlen Barnes
Amber Bisonnette
Jeremy Carver-James
Christian Goutsis
Sarah Horsman
Erik Kopacsi
Andrew McGillivray
Katrina Reynolds
Antonette Rudder
Chris Sans

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/80s-solid-gold-2-a-musical-revue/