Review: ‘Young Frankenstein’ has brains and courage, but lacks heart

Like another classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” Mel Brooks’ classic 1974 comedy “Young Frankenstein” features a protagonist who travels far from home and encounters friends who help him/her discover who they really are. Both movies are about family; the kind we choose, and the kind we gather around us as we journey through life. Both are classics in part because audiences strongly connect with the bonds these characters form with each other, an affection that allows them to weather whatever conflicts the screenplay can throw at them.

Metropolis Performing Art Center kicks off their 2016/2017 season with “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein,” directed by Metropolis Resident Director Robin M. Hughes. And while it is an entertaining and funny production with plenty of brains and courage, it still is searching for its heart.

For anyone familiar with the film, the story follows closely: Frederick Frankenstein (played with barely contained mania and a spot on Gene Wilder vocal impression by Patrick Tierney in a standout performance) is the grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, who long ago ravaged the small town of Transylvania by creating a monster. Frederick is so ashamed of his past he goes so far as to change the pronunciation of his name (it’s pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”). When he receives a bequest from a long-lost relative, however, he soon finds himself on his way to Transylvania, where he meets Igor (Nathan Cooper), Inga (Ali Breneman) and Frau Blucher (Susan Wingerter). Soon he is creating his own Monster (T.C. Fair) and outraging the townsfolk, who are led by the stalwart Inspector Kemp (John Gurdian). Throw in a madcap fiancée (fearlessly and joyously portrayed by Sari Greenberg) and you have all the makings of a spectacular production. But in its execution, something gets lost.

Credit Marc Beth (sound design), Adam Liston (scenic designer/technical director), Holly McCauley (properties designer), kClare McKellaston (costume designer) Joe Mohamed (lighting designer) and Michael Wagner (house technician/master electrician) with creating an impressive, moody and atmospheric setting that transports the audience to a setting that seems straight out of the movie from whose DNA this project is spawned.

The movement, intricately and imaginatively choreographed by Kristine Burdi, dazzles. The spectacular presentation of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” (an extended and, by all appearances, exhausting tap-dancing sequence) was a show-stopper. And by and large the voices are strong throughout. Yet, for me, this version of “Young Frankenstein” missed the mark.

The jokes (this being a Mel Brooks production, you can bet there are a lot of them) are hammered home with the subtlety of an air horn, stretching beyond the point where the audience laughter has dwindled. Many of the characters are played with such heavy-handedness they border on unlikeable. Everyone seems to be going through the motions, playing their part without any sense of connectedness to each other and the story as a whole. There was no bond between the characters, so there was nothing for the audience to bond with.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the production. The material is funny and rich with potential and it’s hard not to laugh at some of the classic scenes recreated for the stage (“Put…the candle…back”). Yet if that’s what you’re hanging your hat on, then what you’re left with is a shadow of the original, without the genius of the actors who originally played these characters.

• Jeff Cook has performed in and directed numerous stage productions in the area and is a retired member of William Street Rep’s improv troupe. He directed “Young Frankenstein” in October 2016 for the Woodstock Musical Theatre company. He has spent more than 12 years in corporate communications. He is a longtime McHenry County resident living in Crystal Lake.


WHEN: Through Nov. 6

WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights

COST & INFO: Comedic genius Mel Brooks’ hit movie comes to life in this mad-cap musical. Contains material that is not appropriate for smaller children. Schedule: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 & 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $38. Tickets and information: 847-577-2121 or

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