Smile Politely

Young Frankenstein is SOOPAH DOOPAH!

When officially announced, Parkland College Theatre Productions dubbed the current season “The Season of Comedy”. So, it is perfectly apropos that such a season would be capped off with a Mel Brooks show.

Now, before getting to the nitty gritty, let this serve as a reminder: It is a Mel Brooks show. Written by Mel Brooks. We know his style of comedy. Please take heed of the mature content warning in the program and on the Facebook event.

I was raised on Mel Brooks. Both my father, who came of age during Mel Brooks’ heyday, and I, who still quotes Robin Hood: Men in Tights, were always drawn to his type of humor. To say I was excited to see one of Brooks’ best works on stage would be an understatement. And the show didn’t disappoint. However, it wasn’t without flaws.

This was one of only shows I’ve seen in which the supporting cast very much outshined the lead. For the first several scenes of the show, Bradyn Wambach (Frederick Frankenstein) had a rough go of it. His comedic timing was off (laughs came more from the absurdity of jokes than his execution), and chemistry fell short. To be fair, as the show went on Wambach seemed to shake some of the nerves off, but it could not save his performance entirely. His best moments came when supporting cast members gave performances that lifted his to a higher level. As the craziness unfolded, the way Wambach played Frankenstein became more and more familiar. Often the problem with ubiquitous characters and/or shows is that knowing the source material influences performances. In this case, Wambach’s Frankenstein seemed to become more of a caricature or impersonation of Gene Wilder in the movie. Again, this may have just been opening night jitters, but I was left wanting more from Wambach.

This isn’t to say the show was without laughs, or brilliant performances, because it was full of them; especially Autumn Ellis (Igor) and Evan Seggebruch (Detective Kemp).

Gifted with a brilliant skill for comedy, Autumn Ellis made Igor her own and shined because of it. The manner in which she threw her voice up and down in perfectly chosen moments, her constantly moving hump (she moved it on her own with a rig under her costume designed by Sheri Doyle), and terrific comedic timing made Ellis the absolute star of every scene she was in. It was clear that Ellis was having an absolute blast on stage, and her energy rubbed off on the audience. Her Igor will be one of those performances that stay with me for a long time. My hope is that this performance is the beginning of a long career of character acting for Ellis. 

Seggebruch, although playing a typical Mel Brooks trope, garnered laughs through terrific physical comedy, and a hilarious absurd accent—I had a moment where I thought he’d be brilliant as Franz Liebkind in The Producers. However, something about his arm and leg was a bit stiff. Sorry. I had to. See the show, and you’ll understand. Anyway. In a show filled with over-the-top, crass humor (it is Mel Brooks after all) Seggebruch relied very successfully on an absurd use of his limbs, and spot on comedic timing to nail the role. 

Mallory Sellers (Inga) proved to be a triple threat; the perfect package of acting talent, dancing skills, and yodeling. Jokes aside, Inga seemed to be a role that demanded a lot, and Sellers shrugged those demands off. Nothing seemed hard, and showed once again how naturally talented she is. 

Krystal Moya brought a Katherine Hepburn/Elizabeth Taylor air to Elizabeth. She was elegant, confidant, and gave personality to the otherwise self-obsessed, high society caricature. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about Elizabeth, yet I for some odd reason I could help but feel as though Moya brought a slightly endearing quality that under that selfish, narcissistic facade.

James Castree made The Monster an incredibly heart-warming character that you couldn’t help but smile at. With impressive make-up by Mike O’Brien, Castree brought such humanity, kindness, and warmth to an otherwise monstrous character. I’m aware that this character arch is scripted, but he brought a whole other dimension to it. His shining moment came during the “Putting on the Ritz” number—if they only performed this number it would be worth the price of admission. After seeing Castree sing “SOOPAH DOOPAH!!” with a gigantic smile spread across his face, I would love not only an encore but to also see Castree sing ABBA’s “Supertrooper” as The Monster. 

And of course the terrific ensemble and dancers should not be overlooked. This was a small group for a rather large scale production. They wore so many different masks, and executed their parts perfectly. In fact, some of the funniest, and most unexpected moments came from the ensemble and dancers. 

Despite the bumpy start, the show induced many side-splitting laughs, and was filled with some risky, and smart choices that paid off. Director Chelsea Collier’s own comedic talent and insight rubbed off on the cast. In addition to hilarious performances, this was seen in small unscripted additions Collier made—not giving them away though. I won’t spoil the jokes for you. And frankly, it was the laugh I needed. No matter how rough an opening night is for a cast member(s), the beauty of theatre is its ability to offer an escape, and an opportunity to leave with a mind, even if for a brief a moment, no longer burdened by stress or emotional strife.

Run to get tickets. Let the Transylvania Mania take you over.

Young Frankenstein
April 12th through April 20th
Parkland College Theatre
2400 W Bradley Ave, Champaign
Tickets can be reserved online

Photos by Bryan Heaton

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