Baldwinsville Theatre Guild puts on the Ritz with 'Young Frankenstein'

Review: A small theater in Baldwinsville pulls off a big, colorful, musical production of the beloved 1974 film starring Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle.

Editor's note: This review originally appeared at Green Room Reviews on October 24, 2014.

Seeing the Young Frankenstein title in marquee-light typeface, signaling its adaptation into a musical, is fitting. One of the quirkiest and most endearing scenes in the 1974 film finds the titular doctor and his creature glitz it up to “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” complete with tuxedos, top hats and a coordinated routine — how positively showbiz. But a larger question looms: Is a Young Frankenstein musical necessary?

The answer, as it turns out, is no, but you can’t blame Mel Brooks for trying. You certainly can’t blame the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild, either, for putting on the show. It’s amazing how the theater company’s staff transformed the tiny performance space at the First Presbyterian Church into a big, boisterous dwelling for musicality and general panache. The performance features a tight-knit cast of local stage veterans and newbies alike coming together in a raucous, lively show that stays mostly in tune with its source material.

There are, however, some serious flaws with the script itself. Every subtle joke in the film is dragged out to interminable lengths in order to milk them for maximum comedic worth. By the end of the 90-minute long first act, there’s more fatigue than giggling. The Frau Blucher horse joke? Referenced until the laughs dry up. The Fronk-un-steen pronunciation corrections? Mentioned dozens of times, each unfunnier than the last.

But those are problems with Brooks’ book itself, not the Baldwinsville performance, which remains charming and spirited in its impressively deft execution. Having most of the stage covered with set pieces doesn’t leave much room for quick scene changes, but the crew’s diligent work during the dark interludes keeps the show moving ahead at an agreeable pace. The decor ends up somewhere between steampunk and period horror and completely fits the show’s campy idiosyncrasies.

The actors themselves shine through the bright lights, microphone crackles and the excessive artificial fog pouring out from an offstage smoke machine (for ambiance, clearly). Henry Wilson brings a humanistic yet smarmy edge to the upstart Dr. Frankenstein, and his chemistry with his creation (Derek Potocki) elicits a wonderful warmth from under the show’s kitschy spookiness. In fact, every actor with a castle-centric role — those playing Blucher, Inga and Igor as well — leaps into every slice of dialogue or song opportunity. They simply won’t let their moments go to waste.

And why would they? The music is too fun to not take in, staying glamorously cheeky during the rousing “Join the Family Business” and the seminal “Man About Town.” The Baldwinsville players stay loyal to the exaggerated, oily essence of this Hollywood tale, and what a show they summon when they pull it all together.

Though a Young Frankenstein musical is completely superfluous (the film will do fine, thanks), this performance makes for one heck of a pre-Halloween event. You might even say, “It’s alive!”

Photo courtesy of Amelia Beamish Photography

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