Muny hosts a ‘Monster Ball’ with Brooks’ ‘Young Frankenstein’

Vicki Lewis, Stephanie Gibson, Timothy Hughes and Robbert Petkoff in The Muny’s production of “Young Frankenstein.”

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“It’s ALIVE. It’s ALIVE!” — The famous Monster of the Mary W. Shelley novel, the 1931 Boris Karloff film, and the Mel Brooks 1974 movie satire is indeed brought back to stunning life in the Muny’s premiere production of “Young Frankenstein,” which takes full advantage of all of the many musical theater assets of our outdoor theater, now in its 98th season.

Next to the immortal “Fiddler on the Roof,” which will appear at the Muny Aug. 8-14, “Young Frankenstein” is one of the most “Jewish” of all musicals, with the possible exception of Brooks’ previous film and musical, “The Producers.” “Young Frankenstein” is based on the wildly popular 1974 black and white film, which Brooks directed and co-wrote with Gene Wilder, which was a spot on spoof of the classic Universal Studios 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel.

“Young Frankenstein,” the musical is appearing through July 19 at the Muny. Brooks wrote the book for the show with Thomas Meehan, and also wrote both the music and lyrics for the production. While not nearly as successful as “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” had a run of 484 Broadway performances from 2007-2009, and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

“Young Frankenstein,” like most of Brooks scripts and screenplays is laden with Yiddishisms, which are hysterically funny if you are Jewish and hip to such expressions as “schlimazel,” but which fly over the heads of audience members who miss their meaning. There was no shortage of laughs the night I attended. When a Yiddish joke was uttered, one could estimate the percentage of Jews in the audience by the smattering of loud laughter from isolated pockets in the large audience.

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For fans of the black and white film version of “Young Frankenstein,” seeing the story in living color of the grandson of Dr. Victor Frankenstein duplicate the feat of animating a cadaver into the Monster, or Creature of lore might be a bit jarring—in a good way. As has been the case for all of the shows thus far at the Muny this season, the colossally huge stage, bright costumes and stunningly impressive sets for every scene makes for an evening of very satisfying theater.

We are invited into the action at a public funeral procession for Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the city of Transylvania, Romania.

Frankenstein had earned the permanent wrath of the villagers for having created the Monster, who terrorized their town, leaving death and destruction in its path.

All of the players in the outstanding cast are superb both as actors and as singers—and also demonstrate their chops in dazzling dancing, for which choreographer Josh Rhodes, and director Marcia Milgrom Dodge deserve kudos.

A true show-stopper is the famous “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number in which the Monster (brilliantly played by Timothy Hughes) tap dances his way into the hearts of the village in an effort by his creator, Frederick Frankenstein, to prove that the Creature really has a heart of gold. When the young Frederick Frankenstein (which he insists be pronounced Franken—STEEN), learns of the death of his infamous, wealthy grandfather, he is holding forth as a brilliant medical doctor with his medical students.

Frederick reluctantly agrees to travel to Transylvania to settle his grandfather’s estate, but soon becomes enmeshed in the intrigues of the Frankenstein Castle, which remains intact in the village.

Robert Petkoff is excellent in the title role, as is Jennifer Cody as his “mustn’t touch” romance-phobic fiancée Elizabeth. She celebrates her frigidity by belting out “Please Don’t Touch Me,” as she bids farewell to Frederick as he prepares to board the “Queen Murray” for his overseas adventure.

Once in Transylvania Frederick meets Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), the grandson of the original Igor, who is most eager for the Young Frankenstein to enter the “family business” of re-animating cadavers to create Monsters.

Frederick at first insists he wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s work, but once he is introduced to the gorgeous Inga (Stephanie Gibson), who is not only brilliant but also strongly seductive, decides to remain in Europe for a while longer.

Steve Rosen is an excellent Igor, replicating the work of his predecessors in both the original 1931 film and the Mel Brooks’ reincarnation. Another runaway performance is that of Vicki Lewis, who nails the challenging role of Frau Blucher, whose sexual appetites are the precise opposite of Elizabeth’s.

As is the case with nearly all of Mel Brooks’ work, the script is fast and furious with “raunchy” punch lines. Some of these lines are not suitable for young children, but they do not seem to offend the appreciative audience.

If you are looking for lots of laughs to banish the gloom of recent weeks in the all too “real” world, then treat yourself to this enjoyable and highly entertaining show.

“Young Frankenstein” commands the stage of the Muny through July 19. For more information, visit