Review: Legally Blonde at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

It’s interesting how many incarnations a story can make. Usually a story will be created in a novel and then be turned into a film, then a stage production… or after the novel, the stage production will come and then the film. Either way, it’s usually a well-known story from the get and it can be challenging for a creative team (whether stage or film) to visually recreate or reimagine a beloved novel. However, some stories just lend well to a transfer from film to stage and Silhouette Stages latest production, Legally Blonde the Musical with Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and Book by Heather Hach, and on the novel by Amanda Brown and the MGM Motion Picture, is a story that looks just as good on the stage as it does in the pages of a novel or on the silver screen. This latest production is Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla and Michael Wolfe, and Choreography by Rikki Lacewell and is a joy to experience and should not be missed.

The cast of Legally Blonde; Photo by Silhouette Stages.

Briefly, Legally Blonde the Musical is about Elle Woods (Lindsey Landry), a pretty, blonde West Coast girl, from Malibu who follows her college boyfriend, Warner (Stephen Foreman), all the way to Harvard Law School to win him back and along the way, shows herself and those around her, such as teaching assistant Emmett Forrest (Matt Wezel) and Professor Callahan Ryan Geiger) that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that she is much more than what she looks like. She overcomes challenges and finds friendships places she least expected. It’s a story of discovering what is inside of a person is much more important that what we see on the outside. It’s a good message told with a balance of humor and poignancy that makes for a delightful evening of theatre.

Set Design by TJ Lukacsina is simple, yet appropriate for this production. More set pieces than a permanent set, each scene is insinuated but it is easy to see where everything is taking place and the clever use of set pieces makes it easier to create the many different locations needed for this piece. Aside from a few lackluster pieces that are supposed to represent simple doors but look a little untidy, the cast and crew are well-rehearsed on the changes and everything moves smoothly and quickly keeping up with the pace of the piece and not hindering it.

Andrew Malone has yet to disappoint with his Costume Design and this production is no different. As the nature of this piece goes, the look is just as important as the story and Malone has managed to capture that look beautifully. From the West Coast, haute couture look for Elle Woods (and there is no mistaking that pink is her signature color) to the darker, more conservative look of the East Coast, Malone has chosen a near perfect wardrobe for each character in this production. Kudos to Andrew Malone for a job well done.

Erica Loy as Kate; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Kendall Nicole Sigman as Serena; Jennie Phelps as Margot; Nia Smith as Pilar; Photo by John Cholod.

Choreography by Rikki Lacewell is well on point. Definitely much more than dance squares and jazz hands, this choreography is well thought-out and befitting of this upbeat and modern piece. The fast-paced numbers such as “Omigod You Guys” (the opening number), “Positive,” “Whipped Into Shape,” and the infamous “Bend and Snap” are exciting and stimulating and Lacewell seems to know her cast and the varying abilities of each and wonderfully blends them all into all these numbers. There was an attempt at a hip-hop style of dancing during “Positive” that might have benefitted from a bit more rehearsal, but overall, the choreography is fitting, thought-out, and well executed adding great value to this production.

Music Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla and Michael Wolfe is superb with a strong, vocally stellar ensemble. The music is recorded, but that doesn’t damper the abilities of the cast as they in harmony and spot in in every number. Some performances are stronger than others but Scavilla and Wolfe have managed to get brilliant performances out of every member of the cast and this music is presented exquisitely and with gusto.

Along with Set Design, TJ Lukascsina has double duty and also takes on Director duties of this production and he’s risen to the challenge of bringing this popular and familiar story to the stage. He has a vision of his own and it’s apparent in this piece while still being faithful to the original to both the film and staged productions. His casting is impeccable and the characters really come to life and move the story along nicely. Lukascina has created a smooth pace but, because of the use of recorded music, the transitions into musical numbers seems a bit abrupt and it’s clear the actors are waiting for their music cues whereas with a live band, a little vamping goes a long way for seamless transitions. Overall, his work is to be commended and he gives us a fun, meaningful piece that is a joy to experience.

Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, I have to mention that the entire ensemble of Legally Blonde the Musical gives a strong, confident, and committed performance. With a large cast, it’s easy to blend in, but there were many good, worthy performances in this piece and all of the ensemble are to be commended and congratulated on a job well done!

Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest; the cast of Legally Blonde; Photo by John Cholod.

Though this piece seems like a female-character heavy piece, there are actually quite a few featured roles for males, as well, including Warner Huntington III, played by Stephen Foreman and Professor Callahan, played by Ryan Geiger. These gentlemen carry their own against the female driven script and give admirable performances. Ryan Geiger has as great look for Callahan and the way he carries himself as the character is spot on. He understands the antagonistic ways of his character and he’s comfortable in the role, giving a very confident performance. Playing the character of Warner Stephen Foreman made some curious choices in mannerism and delivery. Warner is supposed to be a “bro” per say, and not much on his mind besides old family money and when the next kegger is but Foreman’s performance seems a bit too forced and uncomfortable at times. Vocally, he does a fine job with his featured number “Serious” but I would like a more of a jerk-like confidence in this portrayal. However, that being said, Foreman does a good job and makes this role his own. He has great chemistry with his cast mates and it makes for a worthy performance, overall.

Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Stephen Foreman as Warner Huntington III; Photo by John Cholod.

Kendall Nichole Sigman as Serena, Jennie Phelps as Margot, and Nia Smith as Pilar take on the responsibilities of the “best friends” and Greek chorus of this piece and they hit the nail on the head. They are committed and stay upbeat (as required by their characters) throughout the entire production and are in step with every bit of choreography thrown at them. All three are assets to the ensemble and they are comfortable in these roles giving splendid performances.

Summer Hill gives a top notch performance as Brooke Wyndham, Elle Wood’s first client and fellow Delta Nu sorority sister. Portraying a fitness instructor has its own set of challenges but Hill steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the ball park with a high energy jump rope/aerobic number “Whipped Into Shape” that had my heart racing and I was just sitting in my seat. However, Hill didn’t miss a beat or a note and that, my friends, is quite impressive. She makes the entire thing look easy and she has a good understanding of her character and makes the role her own. It’s also worth mentioning, the ensemble members who join Hill in “Whipped Into Shape” also keep up with the high energy number, not missing a beat, and give a tight, well-rehearsed performance.

Parker Bailey Steven as Enid; Nia Smith as Pilar; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Jennie Phelps as Margot; Allison Bradbury as Vivienne Kensington; Summer Hill as Brooke Wyndham; Ryan Geiger as Professor Callahan; Photo by John Cholod.

Allison Bradbury takes on the role of Vivienne Kensington, the uptight, snobby, and, well… bitchy, new girlfriend of Warner and, no offence intended, but Bradbury nails this part. She gives off just enough bitchiness to make you not like her, but also makes her transition toward the end of the piece all the more important and Bradbury gets this importance of that transition. She gives a hell of a vocal performance and, overall, gives a terrific performance.

Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest is quite likable and gives an admirable performance. He has great chemistry with Lindsay Landry making for a believable and authentic portrayal. His vocal stylings on his featured number such as “Chip on My Shoulder” and “Legally Blonde” are commendable and heartfelt and he really grasps the essence of his character making for an enjoyable performance.

I’d also like to mention the four-legged actors of this ensemble, who both did stupendous jobs in their roles: Biscuit Boo Bradbury who takes on the challenging role of Elle’s faithful friend Bruiser, and Olive Ann Landry who takes on the part of Rufus, the poor furry child in the middle of a custody dispute with Paulette and her ex. Note: If you put dogs in a production… you can’t go wrong with me. I. LOVE. DOGGIES. I’m just sayin’.

Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Photo by John Cholod.

Definite highlights of this production are Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods and Michele D. Vicino-Coleman as Paulette. Both of these actresses are a joy to watch and their performances are superb as they really comprehend their characters and their motivations and play the roles to the hilt.

Michele D. Vicino-Coleman plays a hilarious, down-to-earth, and street-wise Paulette, the local stylist who befriends Elle and supports her no matter what. Vicino-Coleman takes this role and gives it a fresh look and portrayal. She has a strong and beautiful belt and smashes her featured number “Ireland” not taking it too, too seriously and adding just enough comedy in to keep it funny, but still poignant. Her chemistry with the hunky Kyle (played brilliantly by a hunky Rob White) is fantastic and, importantly, she looks as though she’s having a blast playing this part which, in turn, makes for a fabulous performance.

Filling the cute, fashionable shoes of Elle Woods, Lindsey Landry is just about perfect casting for this role. It helps that her look is spot on for this character, but more importantly, her understanding of Elle Woods is quite apparent as her transition from the beginning of the show to the end is seamless but definitely noticeable. Her voice is absolutely beautiful as it fills the theatre during numbers such as “What You Want,” “So Much Better,” “Legally Blonde,” and the touching “Find My Way.” She gives an authentic portrayal and really connects with the audience to where you’re really rooting for her every step of the way. Landry gives an impeccable performance and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Final thought… Legally Blonde the Musical  at Silhouette Stages is a delightful, fun, well put-together production that should not be missed this season.  Having to contend with the successful film and book on which it is based, it could have gone horribly wrong or amazing well and, thank goodness, it’s the latter. This production is fresh while staying true to those previous incarnations and, if you’re looking for an enjoyable evening head on down to Columbia to see this production. With a clever script, uber-fun and catchy music, and a well-abled, dedicated cast that makes the show their own while staying true to the original characters, Silhouette Stages has a bona fide success on their hands.

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Legally Blonde the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Legally Blonde the Musical will play through May 28 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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New Backstage Banter for Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages

Click here to check out the Backstage Banter for Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages!

“Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together.”

Silhouette Stages

Review: Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 20-minute intermission

Something funny’s going on and it’s happening at Silhouette Stages in Columbia with their latest offering, Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music), with Direction by Conni Trump Ross, Music Direction by William Georg, Choreography by Tina DeSimone, Set Design by Douglas Thomas, and Costume Design by Linda Swan.

The Cast of Lucky Stiff. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Lucky Stiff is based on a 1983 novel by Michael Butterworth called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and is about a nobody English shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon who lives an uneventful life in East Grinstead, England. He learns that his Uncle Anthony, from Atlantic City, USA has died (killed by his legally blind lover), and he stands to inherit $6 million. The catch is, Harry has to agree to take Uncle Anthony’s corpse on a whirlwind Monte Carlo all-expenses paid vacation or all the money goes to Uncle Anthony’s favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Harry agrees and sets out to fulfill Uncle Anthony’s dying wish but while in Monte Carlo, he meets a very quirky cast of characters who have plans of their own for the $6 million.

Have a traditional proscenium (traditional) stage, Set Design by Douglas Thomas is innovative and creative. Thomas begins with a blank stage with black curtains and actually uses a quite minimal design using tri-flats to represent different settings that were easy to move and set up. Not once is the audience confused as to where a scene is taking place and use of easy-to-move set pieces, as well, adds to the production value. The attention to detail is impressive with specific bed sheets, glamorous gold table cloths, and representations of the inside of a plane passenger cabin and a public bus. Overall, Set Design was spot on and added great production value.

Doug Thomas, Andy Kolp, Rob Wall, & Neal Townsend. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Costume Design by Linda Swann is splendid as this piece musical/comedy theatre, so everything is a little over the top and it is set in present day. Each character has his or her own individual style and each actor’s wardrobe works well for his or her character. Swann gives us a well thought-out, detailed-oriented Costume Design that helps define these zany characters without making caricatures out of them. Working with characters who are stereotypes and even one or two with secret identities, Swann does a bang up job with her design for this production.

No musical would be complete without a little dancing and Choreography by Tina DeSimone is charming and entertaining. I can tell there are some strong dancers in this ensemble as well as some who aren’t as strong as others, but DeSimone really gets her cast and has modified her choreography (modified, NOT dumbed down) to suit her cast and that’s such an important talent for a choreographer to have. She adds in a good old fashioned kick-line (which always goes over well, like it or not) and has her cast moving comfortably on the stage as well as giving her more experienced dancers more challenging choreography to utilize and show of their talents. Kudos to DeSimone for her excellent efforts.

Rob Wall, Mike COrnell, Becca Hanauer, & Lisa Sharpe. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Music Direction was tackled by William Georg and even though this production used recorded or canned music, it is still executed beautifully. Georg has a vocally strong ensemble to work with anyway and in the opening number, “Something Funny’s Going On”, the power behind the vocals certainly makes the audience take notice and clearly announces this production is ready to begin. Georg mentioned that the system used for this production is more than just pushing a play and stop button, but more interactive and he actually controls cues and timing in the numbers which is quite impressive seeing as though he provides all of the sound effects required, as well. The cast sounds brilliant and, from where I was sitting, not one cue was missed so, major kudos to William Georg on his musical work.

Direction duties are tacked by Conni Trump Ross and she has put on a well-thought out, well put-together production. Her casting is top-notch and fitting and the pacing of this piece keeps it interesting and ending at an appropriate time. Ross seems to understand this piece and the story it tells, while keeping in mind the comedy that goes along with it. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously, but gets the important message across of taking that leap of faith once in a while and trying new things because you never know what can come of it. With Ross’ superb guidance, the ensemble is able thoroughly and seamlessly tell this crazy story.

This is definitely an ensemble piece and the entire ensemble knocks it out of the ballpark, making this an enjoyable, fun evening of theatre.

Todd Hochkeppel takes on a supporting role as Luigi Gaudi and his dedication and effort make for a strong, funny performance. This character is an observer, in the background, and popping up when least expected or when it’s least convenient and Hochkeppel takes this character and runs with it. His character choices, especially his movement, mannerism, and impeccable Mediterranean accent make for an upbeat and fantastic performance.

Don Patterson & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Don Patterson takes on the role of the neurotic, optometrist Vinnie DiRuzzio. Poor Vinnie, who also happens to be the brother of one of the women after Harry Witherspoon and the $6 million, is dragged into this story kicking and screaming but takes it all in stride. At first glance, Patterson seemed a little out of place, being a tad older than the rest of the “main” cast, but after a minute or two, that is forgotten and he fits right in with this crazy cast of characters. He seems to grasp the character of Vinnie and his neurotic tendencies and portrays him well. Patterson is comfortable in his role, is confident, and does a great job, vocally, with his numbers such as “The Telephone Song” and his duet “Rita’s Confession,” giving a strong, solid performance.

Featuring Alyssa Bell, Rob Wall, & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

The beautiful Alyssa Bell takes on the role of the beautiful Dominique DuMonaco, a club singer who is “hired” to show harry a good time while he’s in Monte Carlo but ends up in a bit of a different arrangement by the end of the piece. Let me say that I am thoroughly impressed by the effort Bell gives to her character. She especially gives 100% to her solo number “Speaking French” and she is a joy to watch, tackling more challenging choreography while having to belt out a doozy of a song. Though the challenging choreography may have affected her vocal performance a bit, not allowing her to take a much needed breath in her song and belt it out as it should have been, she still does a stellar job with this part. She plays her character flawlessly with just enough “slinkiness” to make her sexy, but also enough naivety to make her innocent and likable. Her accent is commendable and, overall, she her performance is quite admirable.

Featuring Rob Wall & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Rob Wall is superb as Harry Witherspoon and really embodies this character making it his own. As the character in which this story revolves around, Wall holds his own and the responsibility quite well giving a strong, self-assured performance. His chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is effortless and helps make his character more authentic. He does a great job maneuvering Uncle Anthony (played brilliantly by a still and quiet Mike Cornell) around in a wheelchair and not crashing into everything up on the stage, which is actually a pretty impressive feat. I would like more volume from him during his songs but he does belt the high money notes, which is natural and, vocally, Wall is a dynamo, with his smooth bari-tenor voice resonating throughout the theatre. He understands his character and you can see the insecurities in the choices he makes onstage and within his face and mannerisms, making for a fine and praiseworthy performance.

Maddie Bohrer, a newcomer to Silhouette Stages, takes on the role of Annabel Glick, a straight-laced, no-nonsense representative from The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, just waiting for Harry Witherspoon to trip up, just once, so the $6 million can go to the dogs, instead. Bohrer is absolutely charming and sweet in this role and she plays it beautifully. Her transition from “all-business” to letting her hair down is smooth and effortless and her chemistry with Wall is brilliant. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Bohrer a coloratura soprano, but her voice is sweet and strong and it works perfectly for her character and, on side note, I’d love to see her wail in a rock-opera sometime, just to see what she can do! Her performance is robust  and on point and a joy to watch.

Mike Cornell & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Kristen Zwobot as Rita La Porta is a standout in this production. From the moment she steps on stage she is in character (the stereotype of a New Jersey gangster girlfriend) and she is consistent throughout the piece. Her comedic timing is spot on and it helps that she grasps the comedy and her character allowing her to have a good command of the stage. Her look, character choices, and use of a New Jersey-esque accent make for a funny, hearty performance. It’s worth mentioning that Zwobot is a bona fide vocal powerhouse. Her voice is strong and clear in numbers such as “Rita’s Confession” and “Funny Meeting You Here,” filling the entire theatre (and then some) making for an outstanding and memorable performance.

Final thought… Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together. The entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to their performance and they tell the story effectively. Make sure you add this to your list of things to see this season because you won’t be disappointed.

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Lucky Stiff… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lucky Stiff will play through March 26 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: Young Frankenstein at Silhouette Stages – A Monster Hit

By Mark Briner

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In the 2001 Tony season, Mel Brooks made history and swept the evening with a (then) record number of fifteen nominations and a (standing) record of twelve wins including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction, and 3 of the four Best Performance awards (only because there was no leading actress role to nominate) with his musical adaptation of his early hit movie The Producers. What better way to follow up the momentum but to announce that Brooks’ next project would be adapting what he considered his personal best movie for the musical stage? Silhouette Stages latest offering, Young Frankenstein, with a Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks, Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, and Musical Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla, couldn’t be anything but a monster hit!

The transition of Young Frankenstein seemed to be problematic in ways his inaugural attempt wasn’t. The project seemed to suffer under the weight of the movie’s success. The Producers was a story about deliberately writing a bad musical for illicit financial gains, and Brooks’ original score of schlocky, borscht belt inspired ditties worked perfectly and added an extra layer of goofy parody onto the material. However in Young Frankenstein, he had to overcome the shadow of an ideal screenplay (inspired by and co-authored with star collaborator Gene Wilder), a virtual perfect scene by scene parody of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein screen classics, and arguably the most definitive and iconic casting ever achieved in a single film.

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“Life, Life” Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

His movie wasn’t just a success, or merely a film with huge cult following, it stands as one of the most flawless comic experiences ever filmed. Subsequently his 2007 premiere of the musical met with the antithesis of his previous critical glorification. First, a musical should elevate its core material by the addition of music to justify its incarnation. Brooks and Wilder’s original screenplay is already razor sharp in its streamlined execution of both broad and subtle jokes, and a flawless parody of its subject. His music in most instances just slows the plot to a halt. The actors in the movie make maximum efficiency of their screen time with exquisite and unique comic timing, setting up and dropping rapid fire, nonstop jokes with sharpshooter precision, then move onto the next one. Their counterparts in the musical, by contrast nail a punchline, then stop the narrative to sing about it for three minutes.

Secondly, there’s the issue of the music itself. Brooks’ amateurish compositions actually added to the humor of The Producers. But in Young Frankenstein, while there are some numbers that land well like “Together Again (for the First Time)” a comic vaudevillian duet between Frederick Frankenstein and new assistant Igor, and “Transylvania Mania”, a hilarious first act finale number led by Igor to hide the existence of the Monster from the townsfolk who haven’t forgotten history, most stand out (or more accurately, don’t stand out) as what would be considered throwaway numbers in other shows and last minute grabs from the trunk of The Producers‘ leftovers (the New York Post referred to it as a “ho-hummable” score). But the major prohibitive factor facing any production is the fact that if ever a movie was full of definitive performances, this cast with Brooks comic veterans Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Chloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn define the term “definitive performances”. Every actor in every production sets foot on stage with a Herculean handicap of merely not being their predecessors.

Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein and Students. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein and Students. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

However, time has been kinder to the piece since 2007.  It no longer lumbers under the umbrella of The Producers, which has not aged well, showing it owes much if its success to its own stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. There is also (stab this reviewer in the neck immediately) a new generation that has not seen the movie and grown theatre kids that know the musical better. And with its original panning and some pretty bad excuses of musicals gracing the New York stage in the last decade, audiences can release their expectations and enjoy the many hilarious moments Brooks provides saluting his film triumph. Fortunately, this distance allows Silhouette Stages audiences to appreciate every entertaining aspect of their valentine to Brooks legacy.

It would normally be unfair and unethical to compare local actors to counterparts from a classic movie, but every audience member who has seen the movie will be doing just that subconsciously, so it is in this case relevant. For those who haven’t (if this pertains to you and you’re still reading–go, watch the movie! NOW!), well those people should be ashamed of themselves and don’t really add anything to this discussion, so, proceeding. Up front, full disclosure, this reviewer is one who counts the movie as one of his all-time favorites, and pretty perfect, with no room for variation and personal interpretation.  It’s Brooks way or fail. Fortunately, the cast and team at Silhouette stage seem to understand this mindset completely and have provided a thoroughly entertaining, full color 3-D fleshed out tribute to all that is sacred in Brooks’ broad comic universe.

Director/choreographer Tommy Malek understands the film and its techniques completely. The movie being a spoof of the original 1930’s Universal classics, he provides preshow ambience by screening movie trailers of films of that era. A slick and unexpected touch is his addition over Brooks’ long and completely unnecessary overture (believe this reviewer, the score is no Gypsy) of a series of filmed still credits for his production, the stars and production team billed in painstakingly perfect sendups of the film credit style of the day, in one stroke transforming the overture from lackluster to highlight. It is obvious early on that Malek has a thorough grasp on not only his original source material, but on how to adapt in into another medium theatrically. The performers are great and game for his hijinks, but for the gullible audience member who thinks that good actors jump on the stage and just bring the performance you see, know full well every performer in this show owes at least half of their success to Malek’s masterful hand saluting physical comedy, vaudevillian shtick, clowning double takes, over the top excess, and the power of the perfect comic pause. He pays ultimate tribute to the style and influence of Brooks at his best, but without imitating. Rather he filters his Brooks-ian homage through a cast of well-tuned instruments and, like the titular Dr. Frankenstein, bestows new energy and life into this potential monster of a show.

Jeremy Goldman, Lindsay Landry, and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Mort Shuman Phogography

Jeremy Goldman, Lindsay Landry, and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Mort Shuman Phogography

And what well-tuned instruments he has at his disposal to create his comic virtuoso symphony. Led by Jeremy Goldman as Frederick, the cast delivers nonstop energy and fully embraces Malek’s comic vision. Goldman, operating under the weight that we have just lost his beloved counterpart Wilder, brings just the right touch of Wilder’s wacky straight man to the table, balancing deadpan pauses with instances of mania. He has the ability to be superior on the brink of arrogant one instant, madly frantic the next, and gently sympathetic the following. He is a perfect foil for all his comic costars to bounce off, while maintaining definite leading man charisma throughout. He generously gives to his fellow performers allowing them to outshine whenever the script calls for it, realizing that in the process, he comes out a stronger lead.

Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

In the story, blundering but endearing assistant Igor steals an abnormal brain, but in the vehicle of Matt Wetzel, he also steals virtually every scene in which he appears. He and Goldman share a breezy stage chemistry rivaling Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. Wetzel has a tight rein on exactly how far to go with the physical bits (to Pittsburgh seems about right), grasping how to shine without outshining. He gives credit to Marty Feldman‘s classic delivery when required (and without Feldman’s built in rubbery facial advantages) but also is capable of displaying his own personal strengths. Provided the bulk of Brooks’ physical comedy, Wetzel (quite literally) throws himself into those moments with relish and endearing flair. He also benefits from being handed the two best songs of the show, his clever faux Vaudevillian duet with Goldman, “Together Again (for the First Time)”, and the first act show stopper “Transylvania Mania” wherein he leads the company in a rousing Charleston attempting, with hilarious vocal riffs, to cover the newly roused Monsters guttural moans. He embraces both as golden opportunities to show his comic strong suit in moments where he is not hampered by Feldman’s shadow.

Lindsay Landry as Inga and Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Lindsay Landry as Inga and Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Lindsay Landry embodies the role of Brook’s stock fantasy Bavarian blonde shiksa goddess, in this case laboratory assistant Inga. Miss Landry makes an impressive entrance in the back of a hay cart and shows off her vocal and comedic skills in a hilariously staged “Roll in the Hay”, a visual Brooks-style ode to her physical attributes, complete with mocked up choreographed horses. The number also gives her a chance to display mad yodeling skills, an opportunity not offered by many modern musicals. Some may consider Brooks handling of his ubiquitous blonde goddesses on the border of sexism these days, but Miss Landry gamely plays with the image and delivers an adept comic sweetness. At some points during her love duet with Frederick, “Listen to Your Heart”, she tends to come on a bit too aggressively (Brooks’ lustful “ingénues” tend to possess a very easy European open sexuality, so healthily ingrained in them that they effortlessly exude sex appeal as freely as they exhale, his standard sleep away camp fantasy of the unassuming blonde shiksa bombshell), but overall she instills Inga with Terri Garr‘s requisite comic grace.

Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard’s ghoulish housekeeper, Frau Blücher is a physically intimidating spiritual vacuum. Somber, stoic, and eerily devoid of any detectible human emotions, her cohorts (and the audience) share a little of the horses’ uneasiness in her presence. While she starts off slightly over-animated, allowing her voice to show a few too many vocal inflections, by the time delivers her introductory torch song, “He Vas My Boyfriend”, a mock Kurt Weill-ian ode to her unrequited love for Frederick’s grandfather Victor, she delivers it with the physical aplomb of an Amazonian Lotte Lenya. In this number she vocally settles into the rhythms of the character, understanding that Blücher (neigh), like Cloris Leachman‘s interpretation, registers best when delivered vocally deadpan in a Bea Arthur-esque baritone. Fortunately, Berard retains these qualities for the remainder of the show.

Michael Crook as Inspector Kemp and Villagers. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Michael Crook as Inspector Kemp and Villagers. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Written by Brooks in the musical to be a dual role, Kenneth Mars‘ resident heavy Inspector Kemp and Gene Hackman‘s sympathetic Blind Hermit were designed to be played by the same actor. Malek makes a decision to cast the roles separately, which fortunately allows Don Patterson a cameo scene to shine as the Hermit. After pleading in song “Please Send Me Someone”, his prayers are answered in the unseen form of the lumbering Monster that he mistakes for a mute. Patterson makes the best of all Brooks’ stock comic bits and instills the Hermit with an appealing humility. Michael M. Crook as Kemp delivers Brook’s stock neo-Nazi antagonist with all the crisp wooden blocking/choreography the physical humor calls for with his missing limbs.

Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

As the new Dr. Frankenstein’s latest Monster, Christopher Kabara gets the ultimate anticipatory lead entrance, being introduced just before his break out moment at intermission, and Kabara is worth the wait. Alternately scary and sweet, he lands big laughs as a creature of few words, but several hundred perfectly timed grunts, moans, and wails. Terrifying to the townspeople yet endearing in his quiet scene with the gentle blind man, he scores highest when asked to deliver an unlikely production number in the movie’s ultimate set piece, wisely secured by Brooks to keep intact for the musical, Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Kabara tap dances (stomps?) and uses his impressive physical stature to the max as we watch him exude momentary childlike exuberance finding the joy of musical theatre, and, like predecessor Peter Boyle, his vocal mangling of the song’s lyrics never get old. He also adeptly turns the table when the story gives him a final twist that displays another side of Kabara’s acting prowess. The only critique of Kabara’s performance is a technical one. His green hued makeup as the Monster is expertly applied and enhances every one of his facial expressions. But the color stops at his jawline and, in lower collared shirts, his human flesh colored neck, a critical anatomical feature in a creature known for bolts and scars there, is visible, as are his pink hands both of which break the illusion he is so perfectly creating. Simply blending the facial color down his neck and under the costume line, as well as a thin tint on the backs of his hands up under the cuffs, would complete the illusion instead of visually distracting from it. Again, this was a final dress rehearsal, and perhaps his time was rushed and this will be easily corrected by opening night.

Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

The biggest impediment any production of Young Frankenstein faces, including its Broadway incarnation, is the burden placed on any actress to operate in the broad and all-encompassing shadow of the inimitable Madeline Kahn, who defined the role even better than it was written. What does any production do when the legendary Miss Kahn (still sadly missed in the entertainment world) is not available? Fortunately for Malek, he turns to veteran Ashley Gerhardt. Miss Gerhardt wisely avoids imitating Miss Kahn (because no one can ever live up to that), but strikes a perfect delicate balance of interpreting Miss Kahn’s performance through her own unique comic styling. The book also does her character no favors by slowing up her ace comic timing with redundant songs that stall her efforts. However, Miss Gerhardt delivers one after the other with relish and power, especially her final torch song ode to “Deep Love” (yes, it’s Brooks which means it’s as Freudian as it sounds). Miss Gerhardt understands all the comic depths available to her vast resources in the role, and plumbs every last one of them, in the process, like Kahn, walking off with the show under her own comic terms.

A slight disappointment of note to this reviewer, after an exhilarating performance, Miss Gerhardt was denied the crowning moment of her efforts. The character of Elizabeth undergoes a ridiculous journey that inversely parallels that of the Monster, starting out as a spoiled society maven and transforming by story’s end into the literal Bride of Frankenstein (that’s not a spoiler; if you haven’t watched the movie by now it’s your own fault). Brooks, due to the amount of time he had to sacrifice to music added into his book, rushes to an ending, obliterating the movie’s wedding night scenes. Miss Gerhardt was sadly not provided the wig for the final transformation that every fan of the movie is waiting for, and thus does not receive the opportunity to deliver the ultimate joke of her, and the show’s, diligent efforts. However, as stated, this was a final dress rehearsal so, hopefully, that slight has been rectified for everyone’s benefit to give everyone – Miss Gerhardt, Mr. Malek, the show, and the audience – the final comic resolution they all deserve. If it’s a budgetary thing, a very real consideration in community theatre, this reviewer suggests the cast chip in for the director’s gift and, instead of a poster or a T-shirt, purchase the Bride’s wig for everyone’s best interest. It would be the best cast money spent ever.

Jean Berard, Jeremy Goldman, and Lindsay Landry. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard, Jeremy Goldman, and Lindsay Landry. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Technically, the show overall succeeds in producing a mammoth show on a community budget. Costume designer Caroline Jurney assembles a nice variety of period appropriate attire from two continents, with the necessary nod to the iconic looks of the film. Lighting designer Jeremy Mayo conservatively delivers all the appropriate mood lighting with a palette limited by the space. Set and sound designer Alex Porter makes wise use of his space and budget, reserving the bulk of the set for the doctor’s laboratory, with many bells, whistles, switches, and old fashioned lights that provide all the necessary atmosphere. Porter does an admirable job of recreating the essence of it in critical pieces. For all other scenes, he wisely selects a representative piece of scenery–a door, a boarding dock, the requisite trick bookcase–and effectively allows his talented performers to conjure up the negative space. Special note should be paid to the sound.

This production uses studio tracks instead of a live orchestra which is usually a dicey choice, resulting in a flat and uniform sound with no dynamics. But Silhouette Stages is blessed with an apparently superior sound system because the resulting stereo sound features multiple layers, audio positioning, and richness that has been heretofore unheard of in local productions, where sound is virtually always a liability these days.

But amidst all praise, let it be reiterated that despite all the stellar talent gracing the stage, the true star of this show is director Malek. He approaches this piece with the necessary reverence for his source, instills it with a clear vision, and collaborates with talented and willing actors who are game to trust him in coordinating their performances into a successful and loving tribute to one of the most iconic comedies ever filmed.

Young Frankenstein will play through October 30 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.