There are those on campus who have said that a campus musical would never happen. It was said that such a promise – part of Mr. Yamagishi’s initial platform as a bright-eyed business student running for VPSL – was misguided at best, and a waste of students’ money at worst. As of yesterday evening, those naysayers have been proven wrong. The SU has, in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, a genuine hit.
Young Frankenstein is a wild comedic take on the classic Mary Shelley tale. Frederick Frankenstein (Connor Meek) is a professor of anatomy at a prestigious university in New York. He wants nothing to do with his family (going so far as to pronounce his name Fronk-en-steen), and desires only to study the brain (“The Brain”) and spend time with his fiancé, Elizabeth Benning (Daisy Daver). Sadly, this is not to be. Mr. Frankenstein receives a telegram informing him that he has inherited a Transylvanian castle from his infamous grandfather, Victor Frankenstein (Braden Price). He returns to the castle with the intent of packing up and selling it, and is met by his grandfather’s servant’s grandson, Igor (Eric Smith). Igor implores Frederick to take up his grandfather’s scalpel and learn the family trade of creating monsters (“Together Again”). Frederick is informed that Igor has hired a beautiful young lab assistant, Inga (Jessica Watson). The team is met at the castle by the mysterious Frau Blucher (Rebecca Collins). After much encouragement from Frau Blucher and Igor, Frederick creates a monster that escapes and rampages through town, and must be dealt with by the whole village.
Although the cast was clearly inexperienced, they managed to put on a raucous, wild show. Frau Blucher (Rebecca Collins) stood out. Ms. Collins brought a difficult character to life; she made the farcical nature of her character seem natural. It is my hope that she will be seen in many other Edmonton productions; if she is doing a Fringe show, I hope that Ms. Collins will invite The Wanderer to review it. Igor (Eric Smith) was similarly strong. Smith stayed true to his character throughout the show, maintaining a strong British accent, and was consistent in his physical performance throughout the show. He managed to make the character extremely believable. The titular character, Frederick Frankenstein, was played by Connor Meek. His performance was alright; while Mr. Meek has a strong voice, he appeared at times to lack confidence. As the show progressed, Mr. Meek opened up, and he negotiated the transfer between the buttoned-down dean of anatomy and the mad scientist particularly aptly.
Inga, Frederick’s assistant (Jessica Watson), was very well cast. Ms. Watson portrayed a very persuasive seductress, and her pursuit of the doctor felt natural. It was her convincing performance as the seductive ingenue that contrasted excellently with Elizabeth Benning (Daisy Daver), Frederick’s fiance. Ms. Daver’s portrayal of Elizabeth as a completely over-the-top, vain, spoiled rich girl was very well received by the audience, including the author. Ms. Daver appeared to have walked out of a 1930s era Upper East Side apartment.
With only a few minutes of stage time, Victor Frankenstein (Braden Price) stole the show. His fantastic voice, coupled with his incredible energy made his number “Join the Family Business” an absolute delight.
The ensemble in general was fairly strong. In particular, Jonathan Yeung, a member of the ensemble, stood out with his excellent voice. Although it appeared that many members of the ensemble lacked experience, their presence on stage significantly added to the raucous environment. The best musical number was the aforementioned “Join the Family Business,” where the ensemble, led by Mr. Price, attempted to persuade Frederick into taking up the family business and creating his own monster. The whole cast came to life in the number, and drew the audience in with their enthusiasm.
Regarding the direction and choreography, all the choices made were very safe. Given that the University of Alberta has arguably the strongest acting program in the country (NTS will dispute this) in the BFA Acting program, and that the U of A Studio Theatre is well-known for its delightfully strange productions (Eurydice, anyone?) it was a shame that the director chose to keep Young Frankenstein in the calm waters of traditional musical theatre. More adventurous choices in direction and choreography would, I believe, have been welcomed by the Edmonton theatre community, and applauded. That is not to imply that the choreography or direction was poorly done. Both were well done, but were exactly in lines with what one would expect; there were no surprises.
This review would be remiss without mentioning the fantastic band. Christopher Wong conducted a quartet of fabulous musicians, who completely brought the show to life. The band was fantastic; one could not expect more from them. It was an excellent idea to have a live band instead of recorded music, as it made a distinct difference in the energy of the production.
The show was very enjoyable. That said, there were several flaws. The worst of these was the space. Dinwoodie Lounge is not an appropriate place to hold a musical. Although the cast did their best to work with the space, the production would have been greatly enriched by performing in the Myer Horowitz. As some of the production took place in front of the stage (on the unraised floor), having a consistent, unhindered view of the actors was sometimes an issue. There were also consistent issues with the sound, and at times it was hard to hear the cast. The lighting was also completely done in blue. This seemed distracting at times as the inability of the space to go completely to black allowed the audience to see scene changes and other, inadvertent reminders that we were watching a play, and not sitting in Transylvania. The cast did their best to deal with the technical issues, and they seemed to overcome them by the second act.
One final nitpicky detail: during the scene where the audience is introduced to Young Mr. Frankenstein, there is a chalkboard with a benzene ring and a quadratic formula drawn on it to symbolize that he is doing Science (with a capital S). As far as I am aware, the two are as completely unrelated as two scientific concepts can be, and are not connected with neuroscience. Including material from, say, computational neuroscience, would have been a nice touch.
By Mel Brooks; directed by Luay Eljamal; choreographed by Cara Chong; vocal direction by Miranda Marks; tap-dance choreography by Dominc Collin-Doyle; conducted by Christopher Wong; sets/carpentry by Corrine Pelletier; costumes by Josee Chartrand; lighting by Natasha Brocks; music and sound by Sareeta Lopez; stage manager, Darylle So; props by Nicole Noel. Presented by the University of Alberta Students Union, Saadiq Sumar, producer. At Dinwoodie Lounge, SUB; tickets at Tix on the Square. Through March 9th. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
WITH: Connor Meek (Frederick Frankenstein), Jessica Watson (Inga), Eric Smith (Igor), Rebecca Collins (Frau Blucher), Daisy Daver (Elizabeth Benning), Lyndon Crone (Inspector Kemp), Celeste Birzgalis (Victor Frankenstein), Colin McDonald (The Hermit), Brett Calvert (The Monster), and ensemble.
Finbarr Timbers (@fnbrr) is a third year mathematics and economics major at the University of Alberta. A runner, avid ballet-goer, and general pretentious student, Finbarr loves exploring Edmonton’s arts scene.
Brenden Kunimoto is a second year biological sciences major at the University of Alberta. He has been involved in theatre since high school.